As The World Slept
On June 12th, 2016 many people woke thinking it was going to be just another Sunday. To those in the LGBTQIA community of Orlando, they were enduring a nightmare.
Sirens filled the air, bullets ricocheted, screams echoed, and cries and pleas for mercy sounded as those who had gone to Pulse in Orlando, Florida for Latin Night to be themselves, to embrace their truth, to kick off Pride Week, to dance, to love freely, were gunned down in hatred. In fear. In anger.
While the rest of the world slept and was unaware, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, partners, husbands and wives, lovers, fathers and mothers, friends, family members, colleagues, mentors, were fighting for their lives. Running for safety. Struggling to escape.
Many of them called for help. Alerted family members, local law enforcement, friends on social media, of what was occurring, in a desperate attempt for help. For safety. While a madman calmly hunted them, shooting them. Killing them. Wounding them. Injuring them.
The shooter, for he is not worthy of being named in this post, was “cool and calm” during negotiations, according to various news outlets. He had no regard for the lives of the people he was attacking. He cared not about the couples he was splitting up, the sons and daughters he was taking away from their parents, the fathers and mothers he was taking away from their children, the brothers and sisters he was taking away from their siblings, the friends he was taking away from their support system.
While the rest of the world slumbered, or started their day, the victims of Pulse, tried to get to safety. They barricaded themselves in bathrooms, they ran out the back door, climbed over the fence, helped complete strangers to freedom, tried to patch up the wounded as they ran; all while a shooter intent on taking their lives continued his assault. Many of them escaped. Many of them did not.
The shooter’s father apologized to the victims’ families and to the city of Orlando, while in the same breath offered an explanation for the mass shooting, stating that it was seeing “two men kiss” that led to the hate crime and terrorist attack—because yes, this was both. However, the absurd notion, this bigoted ideology that “gay panic” can lead someone to commit a heinous violent act is nauseating. The very fact that anyone tries to use it to justify their actions is horrible. What about “black panic” or “Hispanic panic” or “white panic” or “women panic” or anything else? When just seeing someone who represents something you don’t like, or don’t agree with sends you into a rage, or a “panic” is suddenly justification for you to attack them or murder them. Will there suddenly be people shooting heterosexual couples? Cisgender, all white couples? What about cisgender, all white, Republican, wealthy, extreme right-wing couples? What if that causes a “panic” in someone? Will that be justification for them to walk into a country club and start shooting? Will the media and news outlets report that it was a mass shooting in a city, as they reported the shooting in Orlando—erasing the fact that it was in a gay nightclub, on Latin night with POC with trans headliners, or will they report that it was a mass shooting in an “affluent, known Republican, extreme right-wing, country club”?
Too long the gay community has been vilified, oppressed, and attacked in public, and now, in our safe haven, our nightclubs, we have another reason to look over our shoulder. To be on alert. To be watchful. While it will not prevent the dance, nor stop our expression of PRIDE, while we still believe (in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda) “that love is love is love is love is love, and love cannot be killed or swept aside,” the fear that we live with outside in public, as we hold hands with our partners, our lovers, our boyfriends, our girlfriends, our spouses, our significant others, has now followed us inside the very places where we used to let go of those concerns.
As soon as the world awoke, we all watched and listened in horror as details were given. Those who knew someone, who had family, friends, loved ones, etc. in Orlando, around Pulse, or whom they knew were in Pulse at the time, began calling, texting, checking Facebook, hoping for word that they were okay. Hearts in our throats, tears in our eyes, fear clawing away at us. Terror had gripped the LGBTQIA community, our families, our friends, our loved ones, and the city of Orlando. Video after video was played of family members weeping, their tears and sobs burying deep inside those of us who were rooted to the unbelievable, unfolding story. Details unfolded slowly, and still we watched.
Parents of LGBTQIA children reacted all over the world. Whether it was to call, text, or see their children, contact was made. Conversations were had, and parents who had accepted their sons and daughters coming out were having to deal with the very real fear, the reality, of what their children were dealing with, were facing, every day, simply for being who they were. For living their truth. Simply because someone didn’t agree with who they were.
Then, the names of the fallen began to be released, and those of us who were in denial, who thought—who hoped—that maybe, just maybe, this was all just some horrible nightmare gone wrong, something they just couldn’t wake up from, had to face facts that yes, yes, dear god, this actually. Happened.
Tears flowed. Bodies trembled. People clutched each other in sorrow. Some collapsed in grief.
Oh god. Oh god. How could this have happened. Again? And why?
49 people killed, at least 53 people seriously wounded, and that’s just the numbers that have been reported. Will the death toll rise? Will more of the wounded appear?
And as the world struggled to come to grips with this tragedy, controversy after controversy began to pop up. But then, what did we expect? This was both a hate crime and a terrorist attack on the LGBTQIA community in Orlando, Florida. From media outlets who refused to say “gay nightclub” or “hate crime” or “LGBT” in their broadcast whatsoever, thereby erasing the very real reason why the attack happened. Ignoring our fear, downplaying our suffering, brushing aside the agony of the families, and diminishing the lives of the fallen and the wounded. To politicians who used this tragedy to either push their agenda, or to speak hypocritical words of sympathy to a community they’d vilified, attacked, oppressed, and discriminated against, time and time again. Even to politicians who took the time to congratulate themselves on being “right” about “Muslims” and pushing more hateful, Islamaphobic speech and rhetoric, the same kind which led to the LGBTQIA community at Pulse in Orlando in the first place, only by a different party.
But then the love poured in. From celebrities. From countries around the world. From the Tonys. From strangers all over social media. From strangers all over the state who stood in line at blood banks for hours to donate blood and plasma, even arguing about the right for gay men to donate blood to gay men. The Tonys handed out silver ribbons. Google put up a black ribbon on their website. There were Pulse icons made. People changed their logos. Hashtags were made for Orlando, for Pulse, for the gay community. When word came that a man had been prevented from attacking the L.A. Pride Parade, though people were shaken, the community was still even more resolved.
We would not be deterred. We would not be moved. We would not be driven back into the closet. Forced to live our lives in the way that those with certain extreme religious or political beliefs thinks is “acceptable.” We would not cower. We would stand strong. We would stand tall. We would have spines of steel. Our brothers and sisters had not died in vain. We would and we will carry their names in our hearts with us forever, we would carry the weight of the wounded on our shoulders as we continued the march forward towards true equality, safety, and freedom.
This horrible event, no doubt concocted in the shooter’s mind in an effort to weaken the LGBTQIA’s community, did nothing but strengthen us. We ceased any in-fighting, put a halt to any grudges, and instead of separating into cliques, we joined arms, bracing each other up, becoming stronger, becoming one cohesive unit. We did not yield. We did not fall. We did not bend, nor did we break under the assault of the attacker’s weapons. Instead, we began to breathe in sync with one another, our pulse beat as one, strong, our skin became impenetrable, our backs unbreakable. We supported each other and knew that we would continue to do so. The outpouring of love continued on through the night, from James Corden’s opening monologue at the Tony’s through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet when he won for Best Original Score to Adele’s heartbreaking dedication as she sang during her concert, and much, much more. We, members of the LGBTQIA, community, knew that while we were often the ones on the front lines of this war, there were others, allies, who stood with us, behind us, to hold us up when we grew weary, and even to stand beside us. We did not have to fight alone.
And yes, this was a hate crime. A terrorist attack. Against us. The LGBTQIA community. On Latin Night. While trans POC were on the flyer advertising for the event. We are aware of what this means. We know what’s going on, even if the media wants to pretend that it’s not, but still we embraced our allies because their blood was welcomed at the blood banks, they donated, they offered up support, they held us as we cried, tweeted, retweeted, and marched with us. They stood on the sidelines with us when we needed them to. Pride may be for us, but we still appreciate them.
And then, the world slept again.
And as the world slept, the victims and the fallen, their families, their loved ones, friends, significant others, partners, etc. continued to suffer. When the news vans pulled away, they stayed, waiting to hear word, waiting for a glimpse of their family member, to see if they had made it, hands clutched around cell phones, tears streaming down their cheeks as fear sank deep into their bones. They waited at the hotel, pacing the floors, walking the sidewalks, smoking outside, walking the streets, checking the posted sheets of those who had been located and were in the hospital, receiving treatment, or in surgery, or waiting to be called by phone or by name by the authorities to be told that they’d lost someone that they loved.
As the world slept, 49 members of the LGBTQIA community were lost, and 1 homophobic person snuffed out their lights. 50 lives lost. Over 53 others in the hospital. As the world slept, 49 families had their world’s devastated, whether these were biological families or families by choice, their lives were changed forever.
As the world slept, their tears flowed like rain, never ceasing, their grief felt like a heavy cloud in the air here in Florida. As the world slept, more names were added to the list of the deceased. As the world slept, exhausted from the bickering, from the shock, from the politicizing, from the posturing, from the fighting, from the fear, from the anger, from the hatred, from stirring up the phobia, these families, these friends, these loved ones continued to mourn, to wait, to fear, to grieve.
And as the world awoke again, some of them returned to their lives, having brushed off the residual dust of the previous day’s explosions and returned to their regular lives. Others were once again plastered to their computers, spewing hate and vitriol at the LGBTQIA community, misquoting and mistranslating a Bible and a religion they claim to believe in. A God who represents love and forgives and hates judging, condemnation, murder, and those who misrepresent him. Others climbed online to offer support, financially, with their words, with their blood donations, or by hosting or attending candlelight vigils all over the country and the world.
People cried and wept with the families, mourning with them, mourning for their loss.
For while the LGBTQIA community had suffered an attack on a place that was considered a safe haven for us, while we had lost the innocence and belief that the hatred would not follow us into “our sanctuaries” we had to remember that there were others who lost more.
Parents who lost children. Children who lost parents. Spouses and couples who were separated. Friends who lost their support system, siblings who lost their brother or sister (or both) and their grief was palpable. It could be tasted on the air. It weighed down on us all.
So, let us all take a moment to remember those who lost their lives, and to remember and have a moment of silence for those who were wounded or injured. Let us remember and thank the first responders, the hospital staff, the staff at the blood bank, and the volunteers. Let us remember that we will not be silenced, we will not be broken, and we will not allow ourselves to be driven by fear. We will be strong and we will stand up and remember those who lost their lives in a nightclub on June 12, 2016 in Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, Florida, a LGBT club in a hate crime and a terrorist attack.
The Names of the Fallen:
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz 24 years old
Post words of condolences to the families of the fallen, their loved ones, and friends, as well as pictures of two men or two women kissing (preferably two men/women of color, since this event happened on Latin Night), or of trans women/men of color in solidarity, and to show that we will not be frightened away, and we will not give into defeat or quit, bend or break. We will not give into fear.
And don’t forget the hashtags: #WeStandWithOrlando #WeStandWithYou #OrlandoStrong #Pride2016 #Pride #PulseOrlando #Pulse #PrayForOrlando #PrayForPulse #GoneButNotForgotten #LGBT #LoveWins #LoveIsLoveIsLoveIsLove
-Vicktor Bailey, out and proud
(aka. Author: Vicktor Alexander)