Thoughts on Orlando

Family (n) – A group of people who are related to each other; a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation

I have a lot of thoughts following the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, which took the lives of 49 people and left 53 wounded. My first thought is about the word “family.”

Those who aren’t part of the LGBTQ community may never fully understand what that event feels like from where I stand as an out, proud lesbian. When I checked my phone Sunday morning and saw a massacre occurred at a gay nightclub, my first thought was about my wife of 23 years. While we don’t often go to gay clubs or Pride events, we have been in those spaces. We could have been among the wounded. We could have been one of those murdered. A chill ran through me at that thought.

My next thought was for all of the LGBTQ people I have known in classes, at work, and through Facebook. Unless you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, you really can’t understand what we mean when we say the word “family” or sing the lyrics of the disco anthem “We Are Family.” We truly MEAN those words. We are a family in ways I just don’t think straight people, no matter how supportive they are as LGBTQ allies, will ever understand.

When we in the LGBTQ community speak of “family,” we are talking about a connection based on shared experiences. Too many of us had our relatives–those people with whom we share DNA–disown us, shun us at family events, or watch us like we are pedophiles when we spend time around their children at family gatherings.

We know the fear that we might lose our jobs if our bosses learn we’re “queer.” We have worried that we’ll lose our friends if they figure out we had crushes on them in high school. We wonder if some bigot will assault us if we brush our loved one’s hand while walking down the street. My LGBTQ family has that shared experience to bond us through our understanding that because we don’t fit into the usual boxes, we are outsiders, outcasts, and outlaws. It binds us in ways that are unfathomable to those who haven’t experienced those judgments.

Upon seeing the news, my mind filled with the faces of all those people I know who are LGBTQ. My mind pictured my gay brothers, my lesbian sisters, my bisexual and transgender siblings strapped to gurneys, carried to pickup trucks, or lying on bathroom floors. Those images nauseated me, and I felt faint.

To the best of my knowledge, I have never met any of the victims of the shooting, but they are still a part of my LGBTQ family. We are legion, we are family, and the massacre in Orlando was in OUR house. Those people wounded and killed are my siblings, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, my kin, ME.

It was a gut punch that I still haven’t stopped feeling. I probably never will.

Ally (n) – A person or group that gives help to another person or group

After hearing about the attack, I started checking my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I wanted to see what new updates were available, and I needed to know if anyone in my circle of connections was directly affected.

As was predictable, I saw the usual outpouring of support, rage, and platitudes from my more liberal (or progressive, as some prefer) friends. At first, my allies’ decisions to share rainbow flags and ribbons or write posts expressing love and prayers for the victims heartened me. It was good to see so many people had heard about the shooting and were reacting with, I felt, appropriate levels of disgust.

Soon, the worm turned. Last night, I shared a post from Rachel Spangler outlining how the conversation has already turned to focus on other issues besides dead and wounded queer people. Go find that post and read it. It’s important to what I’ll say next.

Perhaps this isn’t the time or place to state this, but I’m going to because it’s what’s on my heart at the moment. Quite frankly, I think too many LGBTQ “allies” aren’t doing enough. Sure, it’s great that people are sharing pride flags and keeping the victims in their prayers. That’s a start, and I appreciate it.

Now let me ask some hard questions. How many of you know if your employer has an employment non-discrimination policy? How many of you live in cities or states with those policies? Before Obergefell v. Hodges, did your employer offer healthcare coverage, paid leave, or other benefits to same-sex couples? Did your state allow same-sex marriages before the 2015 ruling? Does your company protect its transgender employees’ rights? Have you contacted your legislators, governor, HR department, or supervisor to ask them to support your LGBTQ friends and family? Have you donated to gay rights groups or attended a rally when our rights are being attacked?

How many LGBTQ friends or relatives do you have? When you’re around someone who is LGBTQ, have you ever seen that person hold hands with, kiss, or touch her significant other? If so, did their intimacy freak you out at all? Or are all of your LGBTQ friends so cautious around straight people that you never see them share a casual level of intimacy?

I’m not talking about people in a hot-n-heavy make-out session. I’m talking about a man putting his hand on his boyfriend’s arm when he sets a new drink down in front of him. If your gay friends won’t do that around you but you do that with your straight partner around them, shouldn’t you ask yourself why they don’t feel comfortable around you?

Do you ever laugh at your crude coworker’s queer jokes? Have you ever told that person those jokes are inappropriate? Do you cringe when you see commercials or TV shows that feature LGBTQ characters? If the gay characters on TV are raising kids or giving each other a loving smile, does it bother you more? Have you ever had a similar reaction when straight people in restaurants, bars, or on TV do the same thing? Does it seem strange to you that images of straight people groping one another bombard you on a regular basis and you can ignore it, but you get freaked out when two women on TV hold hands?

In case I haven’t made my point clear, I think far too many of the LGBTQ allies aren’t doing enough to support us. I see lots of liberal, progressive, or leftist-types patting themselves on the back for “how inclusive and supportive we are,” and they rip the Republican, Tea Party, conservative crowd for being homophobes and causing the Orlando massacre with the verbal diarrhea spewed on Fox News.

Actions speak louder than words, and it’s easy to spout platitudes when tragedies like Orlando occur. It’s harder to get into the trenches every day with the LGBTQ community and help us fight our battles. And quite frankly, if you’re not willing to tell a coworker, “Hey, I have someone in my life who would be hurt and offended by that joke you just told,” then we probably don’t need your help. Because you aren’t helping us. In my opinion, silence in the face of bigotry is condoning the bigotry.

Cowardice (n) – Fear that makes you unable to do what is right or expected; lack of courage

Let’s face it, it’s easy to let fear rule us and keep us from fighting the battles that NEED to be fought. I know I do it. I do it every day. And too often, I loathe myself for not fighting harder for what I believe. It’s a part of why I’m writing this post.

It’s scary to post these feelings on this page. What if my relatives or friends take offense? What happens if someone trolls me, severs our friendship online, or tries to physically attack me the next time we meet?

With all of that running through my mind, I almost didn’t write this post. But it’s past time I shove my cowardice aside and stand tall for what I believe.

I understand it’s scary telling your boss, “That was a bigoted comment, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t make crude jokes about gay people around me.” I believe humans are programmed to avoid confrontation, especially with those who have some power over us. But, that’s when we most need to speak up. Speaking truth to power makes all of us a little freer each time it happens.

Complacent (a) – Satisfied with how things are and not wanting to change them

It’s easy to overlook all the places where the status quo needs to be upended. And, fighting to make those changes sometimes seems not worth the effort. When we are buried under the stresses of our own jobs, families, and responsibilities, taking on the fight for others seems impossible. I get that. I absolutely do.

Complacency in the face of all that is broken in our world is simply inexcusable. If you want to read an amazing post about how our culture sets up young men just to destroy them, check out Chuck Wendig’s post from June 13th.

Wendig’s post focuses on what it means to be a young, white man in 21st century America, and it’s well worth reading. He focuses on America’s gun culture and its connections to manhood.

Sensible (a) – Having or showing good sense or judgment

I’m not a white, straight American man, but I have owned guns. I grew up in a family of lifetime NRA members, and I learned to shoot at an early age. I was taught to respect and fear guns and use “common sense” when around them.

I spent a lot of my early teenage years hunting rabbits (or bunny-busting, as we called it). I used to dream of having my grandfather make me a rifle stock, like he did for all of my male cousins and my sister. At one time, I applied for employment at a gun store.

Over the years, my opinion on gun ownership has grown more nuanced. Yes, I understand that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns. I also know that the U.S. Constitution can be amended. I’m also sensible enough to recognize that NO ONE I know has any business owning an assault rifle. Sorry, friends and relatives, but you just don’t need a weapon with that kind of firepower.

And please, don’t give me a list of people who have defended their homes with AR-15s. Don’t try to tell me that you are legally allowed to carry your gun in a concealed holster, and that you do so to protect your family and mine. Don’t give me some jingoistic speech about how you’ll die surrounded by casings before you’ll be a victim of a mass murderer. Because I know better.

When I lived in Seattle, I participated in the Seattle Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy. For a period of eleven weeks, my class met with officers from every major squad and department within the SPD. I went on a ride-along and went through the Shoot/Don’t Shoot simulator. It’s the simulator aspiring cops train in. It’s the same equipment used to test SPD officers on their firearms proficiency per department regulations.

Most people, when actually faced with a shooting situation, freeze. That was true of the people in my class. The firearms instructor told us it was true for every rookie in the academy. It’s true of a lot of veteran cops working a beat. He said only the SWAT team trains long enough and hard enough to be able to walk into a gunfight and know how each team member will react.

It’s why the U.S. military branches spend so much time and money training new recruits. The ability to face gunfire and return fire without panicking and with any degree of accuracy is only possible if a person trains constantly for that situation. Otherwise, our instincts for self-preservation send us running away from the danger.

So for all those who think, “I could have saved everyone in Orlando if I’d been there with my gun,” do me a favor. Talk to a SWAT officer and learn just how long they train. Then, dedicate yourself to that level of proficiency with your firearms. Then you can tell me how you’d have saved the day against an AR-15.

Sportsman (n) – A person who engages in sports such as hunting or fishing; Sportsmanship (n) – Fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport competition

The AR-15, beloved by firearms aficionados and loathed by those who hate and fear guns. It’s this generation’s Uzi or Mac-10, the gun people fixate on because it’s easier to argue about an inanimate object than it is to do the hard work of fixing what’s actually wrong in this world. After all, if Congress won’t even let the Centers for Disease Control study what kinds of people commit these mass murders, how can we ever have factual information to use in debating our laws? No, it’s better to suck up all the NRA and gun manufacturers’ money possible and refuse to investigate why these murders keep happening. But by all means, let’s waste millions of dollars fighting about whether or not a transwoman can use the same bathroom as some straight man’s wife or daughter.

Please, can’t we all be reasonable and agree that no self-respecting hunter worth her or his license would ever use this gun for hunting? It might be a fun gun to shoot at targets. I’ve never fired one, so I don’t know. But I know for a fact that no hunter trying to bring home venison would use that gun for the hunt. Nothing would be left.

I know lots of people who are hunters or spend time fishing. As I noted earlier, I have hunted, and I have fished. My father and stepfather taught me those skills, and both men emphasized the idea of sportsmanship.

That is, I was taught to respect nature, to pack out what I packed in, and to choose a fishing lure or gun caliber appropriate for the prey I sought. I don’t know of any sportsman worthy of the name who would do any differently. If some yahoo uses an assault rifle for hunting, then he needs to lose his license because that’s not what it was designed to do. Assault rifles were designed for military service, and that’s where they belong. It’s that simple.

After 9/11, we expanded our military and militarized our police forces. We’re awash in weapons that don’t belong in citizens’ hands. Most of us don’t have the training necessary to safely operate them. We demand that people who want to ride a motorcycle or drive an 18-wheeler get the specialized training and licensure needed to operate those vehicles. Why don’t we expect the same from people who want to own assault rifles?

I know we can’t ever get rid of all the guns in this country, and I don’t want to. I grew up thirteen miles from the nearest town, which could only be reached by a poorly maintained, dirt road. We lived so far out in the desert that we didn’t have a telephone. If something had happened, we would never have received help from the police in time. So I understand people wanting the ability to protect themselves and their families. I don’t begrudge them that.

I also recognize that the needs of someone in the rural Sonoran Desert are quite different from what is needed in Brooklyn. And laws should take those factors into account. But I can’t believe that anyone I know needs access to assault weapons (aside from family and friends carrying badges or serving in uniform).

Change (v) – To become different

I also know nothing in our current gun laws will change. If the murders of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook didn’t change our laws, then the murders of 49 queers in Orlando won’t. If we can’t find it in our hearts to take the deaths of little children–kids barely old enough to read–as a wakeup call, then why should we care when the “dregs” of our society are murdered, right?

After all, some right-wing “religious” leaders have called the massacre a good thing because they equate being LGBTQ with being a pedophile or having HIV. Those sick people rejoice that my LGBTQ family is hurting right now. They’re glad the massacre occurred.

And people who feel that way should be glad I’m trying to be mature and responsible because hearing that makes me want to punch people in the throat.

I very likely angered one or more of my friends and relatives with all of this. Perhaps that’s a sign to take some time for introspection and reflect on why my remarks got under your skin.

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