I am just ending a day of covering the fallout of the terror and hate attack in Orlando early this morning. I am in Michigan — Google tells me I am 1,211.9 miles from Orlando — so this tragedy is not mine, and yet…
It is mine. It belongs not only to my community of beautiful, brave, strong, outrageous LGBT folks and allies, but to the community of America – that one nation thing we so often hear spoken of, but too rarely see realized. Tonight I saw glimpses of that America.
In Lansing, this evening I watched as a Republican State Senator joined Democratic Mayor, and Democratic County Clerk. I watched as two City Councilmembers who normally are at odds with that same Mayor, get acknowledged by him for their presence at a vigil. I watched as my beautiful queer community in Lansing joined together to mourn, to honor, to be; and then I watched as a group of Muslim men, women and children from the Islamic Center of Lansing, walked quietly and respectfully up to the crowd. They stood in silence, in solidarity with this community.
When that event was over, Thasin Sardar, head of the center, came up to me and threw his arms around me in a big hug. “We had to be here,” he said quietly. “We wanted to stand with you all.”
It honestly took me a minute to understand what he was saying.
Tonight I am grateful to Thasin and his community for coming out to support our community, and I am reminded that even as we mourn the loss of 50 people in Orlando, there are some who want to make that tragedy a reason to assault and hate Muslims. It is not lost on me that many of those people who are today condemning all of Islam for the act of an angry homophobe acting in conjunction with an angry and violent homophobic political movement are the same people who have long condemned queer people, and fought against our inclusion in society.
An hour later I was at Michigan State University, listening as students struggled with what this horrible attack meant in their lives. It dawned on me, these were young people who had never known the threat of their sacred space– the bars we frequent, the bars we have created as our sacred and safe spaces — being defiled by the profane.
These beautiful young people had come to this queer world without knowing the fear of walking through a dark parking lot that might harbor a thief hell bent on robbing you; or walking through a picket of anti-gay religious zealots; or knowing that on a Pride night, some queer people were shot with darts by people hunting queers. They knew none of this, and I was, for a brief moment, so happy.
Then I knew something. They could never know that innocence of sacred space unsullied and unthreatened again. Their awkward silence and struggled words made so much more sense.
Here’s something to consider about all this as well. In June of 1969, cops raided a gay bar in New York City. That bar was called the Stonewall Inn. This was routine, across the country. But what happened next was anything but routine, the queers that day fought back, and rioted for three days. It was the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement.
Now, flash forward to today. Shortly after 5 a.m. queer folks were huddled inside a gay bar in downtown Orlando. They were held hostage by a madman with an assault rifle and a handgun. Bodies of the dead and dying lay around them.
It was the Orlando Police Department that raided that bar and in a hail of gunfire took that madman out. One of their own was shot in the head– but his life was spared by the kevlar helmet on his head.
In less than 50 years the oppressor became the protector — at least in this story, and in this moment. While 50 people are dead because of the act of a madman with an assault rifle and a handgun, more are alive because police officers put their lives on the line to protect them. And today, queers across America are seeing, at least for a glimmer of a moment, common humanity being shared with them by even some of our most ardent haters.
We are Orlando.