It was a week ago tonight that a gunman would enter a popular gay nightclub with a semi-automatic weapon and kill 49 people and injure an additional 53. Some of those people are still in hospitals today, desperately clasping onto the life their injuries threaten to take away.
I pray they all make it.
Most of us by now have heard the names of the dead and have seen their faces. The majority of those lives taken were young people in their twenties. Though any life taken in such a brutal manner as this is tragic, seeing the pictures of those young faces, some posing in bars from a different time in their life, hit me hard.
I used to be one of those twenty-something year old faces, back in the the days when the weekend meant going to bars filled with people like me. Where I could dance, kiss, and hold hands with another girl without feeling strange. It was “normal” to be like me in places like those. And despite what people say about “defying the ordinary” and “normal is boring” it’s nice to not stand out sometimes, rather to fit in. Go unnoticed.
Gay bars offered a refuge, a safe haven, for gay people who might have spent Monday through Friday hiding while feeling self-conscious living and working in a heterosexual world. But the weekends we were free. We let loose. We were ourselves.
Because the gunman (I won’t call him by his name because he doesn’t deserve that kind of respect) called 911 before the attack and pledged his allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, some people are calling this a terrorist attack, and only a terrorist attack. All attacks are done to cause terror, but this assault was triggered by hatred toward a specific group of people. Gay people. And everyone needs to acknowledge that.
Every gay person across the country, maybe even the world, who’d ever been to a gay bar – felt safe in a gay bar – has watched this story unfold as each day brought new horrifying details, and thought, “That could have been me.”
Those are terrifying words when uttered in relation to a morbidly hatred act.
I learned of the shooting the morning after my niece’s wedding. I had just woken up in a hotel room, my mother beside me in my bed and my two young nephews sleeping in the other bed, and I turned on my phone. I read the headlines news of that morning and sat in stunned silence as my mind took in the unbelievable words I had just read. I listened to the steady breath of my loved ones, sleeping safely in the room with me, yet I still felt so afraid.
My mind turned to the night before, a joyous occasion, and I struggled to imagine that while I was dancing and laughing and drinking, there were people, half my age, thousands of miles away from me, who were only minutes away from taking their last breath while doing something I had done hundreds of times before – dancing, laughing, having fun at a gay bar.
A little while later, my 11 year old niece came into my hotel room from her own, and when she heard the news on the TV reporting that 50 people were killed, her eyes opened wide and she asked me why someone would do that.
One of the most difficult consequences of hate-filled murder is trying to explain the act to children. I couldn’t answer my niece’s question because I don’t know how a person hates so much to kill innocent people. All I could do was hug my young niece. Assure her she was safe.
The same niece, days later, would overhear me on the phone talking to a friend about going to a gay bar the following weekend (because gay people aren’t going to hide in fear) and she cried out for me not go. “Gay people are being killed Auntie! Don’t go!”
She had heard the reports of the man who was arrested while heading to the L.A. Pride Parade the Sunday following the shooting, with guns in his car, looking to do more harm to gay people. I assured my niece I wouldn’t go to a gay bar this weekend, however my city’s Pride Parade is next weekend, and I’m planning on being there.
I don’t know what happens from here. If six-year old’s can be gunned down in their Kindergarten class, no one is safe. I don’t know when or where the next shooting is going to take place, or who the target will be this time, but I do know that another mass shooting will happen again.
That, I know for certain. That past assures me of this.
While we wait for our country’s leaders to finally do something about our much too-easy access to high-powered, high-killing guns, we cross our fingers that it’s not us, or our loved ones, caught in the next horrifying headline news that results in moments of silence and American flags ordered at half staff.
Photo Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net