Persevering with Strength and Unity: Thoughts on the Orlando Shooting

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*The content of this opinion feature are my own opinions and I do not speak for any group or institution.

In a moment of tragedy I cannot help but think about life, mortality, and how one should absorb these moments. I’ve come to learn in recent years that it is taboo to express one’s own internalized thoughts openly. It’s been argued to me that life is so complicated already, so why create unnecessary drama that continues that process? Truth is, for most of my life I’ve worried so much about spilling my personal opinions and qualms onto the lives of others. Yet after the horrific tragedy in Orlando, I cannot stay silenced regarding this incident. I’m not going to mention politics. That’s being overdone at an obscene level already between those who seek to push their agenda regarding immigration and gun control. Me personally, I’d rather speak about this issue on a personal level. I believe emphasizing to those who cannot understand why this tragedy affects me and many more is equally important. It is because the events in Orlando have threatened to push back the safety of the LGBT community. It is because our general trust about being open in public has been challenged and threatened. Even worse, those who are already scared to be open may now take longer to be themselves out of fear for their safety.

For me, I can say that I was fortunate to grow up when LGBT acceptance was better. Not great, but better than in the past. I wasn’t in the position that when I realized my sexuality that I had to repress it for the entirety of my life. Instead, when I was finally ready, I could openly declare who I loved and hope that I would be accepted for it. That was the theory. It didn’t exactly go that way. That process wasn’t easy in the slightest despite it seeming so. The straight community will never experience how confusing and frightening it is for a child to realize at the age of 12 that they are attracted to the same gender and becoming terrified with the possibility that they might no longer be loved because of who they love. So they, like I did, suppress it. Or worst, like I did, pretend they were something that they weren’t for years.

Worse, I had a mental breakdown in my teens while in the process of trying to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Simply put, I didn’t have the strength to pretend. I had tried for years and was left with this empty feeling deep inside of me that screamed I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t good enough, that I was an embarrassment. That’s something that affects you. It stays with you. I still struggle daily with the issue of “do I belong.” I still find myself staring in the mirror at my reflection giving myself pep talks to boost myself outside of my nerves. Most straight people will never understand this. They will never understand the fear of simply being. For me, I am not one of those blatant persons who says ‘screw the world, I’m me.’ I truly respect those who have that capacity. In fact, I envy them. Relegated to me, I’m sensitive, shy, and often afraid to express myself as I should. This all stems back to a sense of belonging. I grew up being afraid to be myself.

For those who know me well, they would be aware that I suffer from depression and anxiety. I have my whole life and I am not ashamed to admit these shortcomings. They are a part of me and I accept them as being a part of the package that is ‘Daniel.’ I don’t blame my sexuality for these. I never would. I’m sure my genetics plays a role in this, but I also think growing up believing that I was inferior affected my psyche dramatically. It especially doesn’t help that those around me who I deemed to be my “friends” often told me to “stop acting gay” and that they wouldn’t want to be around me if “I acted like those people.” Therefore, I framed myself as a ‘straight person who sleeps with guys.’ It was a pathetic attempt to fit in, and sadly, it worked. I was able to make “friends” by doing that. Truth is, these “friends” used me to make themselves feel better about themselves. They loved to diminish me, ridicule me, tease me, laugh at me…but of course, it was “all in good fun.” I was so desperate to be accepted that I took these insults willingly. It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend who took one look at these people and said, “Why are you surrounded by people who are making fun of you?” Worse, these people flat-out told my then-new boyfriend (still with him at almost 6 years) that I was “high maintenance” and he was better off without me. These “friends” didn’t even want me in a relationship. Yet I was so desperate for friends that I endured their harassment until my boyfriend awakened me to the reality that these people were actually harming me. Point is, it took simply one person I could truly identify with that made me realize that I deserved better, that I deserved to have a voice, and that I didn’t have to minimize myself to be accepted. That is why the gay community is so important, because they provide the chance and prospect for others to discover who they are and let them be who they are. We are more than a community, we are a support network.

How does this relate to Orlando? It does because this level of acceptance issues is still prevalent with so many young, middle aged and older gays in this country and world. The straight community will never fully understand the concept of having a sanctuary where one can walk in and truly be themselves. I didn’t have that when I was younger. The younger generations are so much more fortunate cause they have these places, clubs, and events that encourage them to be themselves. Yes, it may seem like a bar or a club to you, but it’s actually a place where we can be free and devoid of the garbage and political jargon we have to deal with continuously. It’s a place where we can be who we want to be. We don’t have to pretend. It’s a place to smile, dance, meet people, and make connections. Of course, like any establishment these are also places to meet up and take things to another level, but is that honestly any different than any other place of the same magnitude? It isn’t. Yet the difference is, the straight community, for all their acceptance, still does a second glance when gays hold hands in public or kiss. Those fears are non issues and are eliminated in the bars and clubs. It’s a place where we can congregate as a community and be united.

The Orlando shooting has threatened that. It has taken decades for the LGBT community to establish themselves, establish sanctuaries, and further gain trust with these institutions. The Orlando shooter has now caused the LGBT community to momentarily second guess whether they want to go to these sanctuaries. Will this murderous coward succeed? No. Absolutely not. We as a community are united and we will remain united. However, the trust of being safe has wavered. We all will, to some degree, hesitate about walking into a gay bar and club and think, ‘Will I be safe?’ Of course we will walk in, have fun, and be ourselves because we deserve it and shouldn’t ever take steps backwards. Yet now we might momentarily pause and consider our safety for a brief second and that’s not fair. It’s not fair that we have to consider that possibility. These locations were one of the few places gays had that were exclusively their own and they have now been threatened. We have been threatened with hate, hatred of who we are, and that we exist.

I speculate that if I had access to these establishments, clubs, or even the community in general when I was younger, perhaps I would have more confidence in myself. Perhaps I wouldn’t suffer from debilitating anxiety. I fear that what has happened in Orlando will scare off young individuals like I was when I was younger. I fear these individuals will be scared to come to these places and understand that they do matter and that there is a community that will accept them. I fear they will step back and embrace “friends” who will diminish them and they will accept it cause it’s people showing them attention. I fear there will be a generation of LGBT persons who will be scared to be themselves in public. Sure people will continue to frequent these places regardless. I am speaking for those who barely had the courage to show up to begin with. There are thousands of LGBT persons who are shy and sensitive and even going to a gay pride parade is a big leap for them. I know because I was and still am one of those persons. These people deserve a voice and encouragement too.

What happened in Orlando reminds us all that our time here on Earth is valuable and limited. We never know when the clock runs out, but don’t we deserve that time to be maximized to the best that it can be? The best we can do to maximize our time on an individual level is to not give into fear. Do not let it define you. Do not let it conquer you. Life is already so complicated as it is and we cannot let disgusting, villainous persons/groups cause us to take a step to the side and stop being who we are. I’ve read that the killer initially became enraged when we saw two men kissing. My response: LGBT community, start kissing in public more. Show the world that we are people too! We deserve love too! We deserve the right to express our love openly! If this Orlando killer’s intent was to scare us, wrong move. This only enrages us and causes us to become more united and fight even harder for what we know we deserve. But don’t forget about those who are scared to make that first move. Look out for them. Help them. They need help now more than ever.

Summed up in a few sentences: To those who aren’t as vocal as others, don’t let what has happened scare you. Please, do not let what happened stop you from being who you are. A movement starts on a individual level and we need you. Don’t ever stop fighting for what you deserve.

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