I have spent the days following the massacre in Orlando searching for a way to express my grief and anger over not just another mass shooting and taking of innocent lives, but also over the fact that those lives were queer and Latinx. They were targeted specifically because of their identity, orientation, and race. 49 people dancing in a safe haven on Latin Night during Pride gone. Over 50 more injured. Families and a community forever altered by domestic terrorism. I honestly spent the first 3 days not even knowing what to say. As a straight, cis identifying woman, anything I could say beyond a text of love and support to a LGBTQIA friend or loved one felt feeble, weak, inadequate, and empty. Hollow. I may be treated and viewed a certain way because of my race, but I am privileged in that I am not also attacked, targeted, or denied civil rights because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. No one is passing laws to ban me from a bathroom that matches who I am. I am not denied employment or face discrimination, or lacking adequate healthcare because my gender and expression of it conforms to what society deems acceptable. I can walk down the street and hold my husband's hand without fear of harassment. My church and family never disowned me because who I love and who I am attracted to fits what's heteronormative. I carry a form of privilege that keeps me safe and one that is not afforded to my friends and loved ones in the LGBTQIA community. I've learned this, I know it, and the massacre in Orlando has forced me to reckon with it in a new way, one that has left me at a loss.
The truth is...I don't really have words that are appropriate. Thoughts, prayers, tears, words demanding politicians take action to protect citizens they're elected to serve-they all feel ineffective and frankly useless in these moments. They felt useless a year ago after hate and an assault rifle took 9 Black lives in Charleston, and they feel empty now that it has taken 49 lives of queer people of color and injured even more. I do not know what to say, but I also can't stay silent. So all I have is my experience to share.
Since Sunday, I've thought about my uncle, his husband, and their children. Their smiles, my uncle's laugh and how he always understood my deep affection for Prince-so much so that he gave me his VHS copy of Joffrey Ballet's Billboards, a ballet done to Prince's music when I was 7 or 8. I think about how he's an accomplished organist, a child prodigy, and how empty the world would be without his artistry and contributions to music. I think about the comfort I always felt in his presence, and how his eyes light up when they see me, how I always, always, always feel SEEN when he looks at me.
I think about dear friends past and present who I can't imagine not loving. Friends who have taught me by proxy how to be a better human, a better believer, a better parent to my children, a better partner to my husband. The ones who allowed me to attend my first Pride with them in DC, Baltimore, and VA when I was in the military. The ones who entrusted me to help them keep from being asked so they wouldn't have to tell and lose their careers. The ones who took me to their safe spaces to dance, the ones who helped me see beyond my own ignorance around gender and sexuality. The ones who educate me even though it is not their job to do so. The ones who have taught me about real faith, and love.
I've also remembered my ignorance, biases, and bigotry. I've stared my complicity in the face and have been ashamed for the way I have treated others in the past in the name of a distorted interpretation of Christianity, in an errant interpretation of the Bible. Despite my own questions, I spent years as a Christian "loving the sinner but not the sin". I've spent years being conditional in my love and affirmation of people different than myself. I have spent the last 6-10 years working to disavow myself of it, but I am still culpable. I think about my best friend in 7th grade who I turned my back on when she first came out to me and started dating her girlfriend because I was a new Christian and everything I had been taught about sexuality was rooted in flawed, narrow understandings of gender and sexuality.
I've recalled the day I was driving home about 5 years ago after a friend shared her story with me about how our local church had mistreated her and her family because they were immigrants struggling to make it. I wasn't completely surprised but I was still horrified. I was nearly halfway home when the words "It's about Love. That's it. You're called to Love, A'Driane. You've been doing it wrong" punched me in the gut and pierced me in the side. I literally sat in my car on the side of the road in between New Jersey and Pennsylvania sobbing, repenting, and determining to disavow myself of any dogma or theology that wasn't rooted in love or demanded that I negate any part of a person's humanity, or deny them their full personhood. I went back and read Jesus' words with new eyes; abandoned the belief that love comes with a condition, that Christ does not accept and love us as we are, regardless of who we are or who we are naturally inclined to be attracted to.
As I've sat with the grief and heaviness of what has happened and have once again recognized the role that religion has had in breeding the hate that triggered the attack in Orlando, I've come to two conclusions, both as someone who has been a believer of Christ and as a human being:
I'm not a scholar or a theologian. I've taken classes, I've read a variety of texts, and I've been reading the Bible since childhood. I'm not an expert and I have no desire to spend time doing an exhaustive exegesis of Scripture to argue with anyone over this. But here is where I'm at. If God is One who cannot and does not affirm and love the wholeness, personhood, humanity, and dignity of LGBTQIA people, then what hope do I have for Him to do the same for me? I am a woman and I bleed monthly. I am Black, my ancestors were once enslaved. My brain chemistry is wired in a way that it's classified as a disorder. And my children? They are not "neurotypical". The Bible, with all of its racial, gender, sexual, able-bodied, and ethnic biases damns us all. If the Father and the Son do not embrace and love those who are not heterosexual and gender conforming, then They do not embrace and love me and the full expression of myself either. Or my children. Or anyone. They can't. If LGBTQIA people are not worthy and deserving of life and life more abundantly as they were made and created in God's image, then neither am I...and if that's the case, then I have to conclude that Christianity and religions like it are nothing more than man-made constructs designed to oppress, marginalize, and kill. I refuse to be a believer of it, espouse its virtues, or evangelize any of its tenets as beneficial to anyone. Ever. It's either God is LOVE or there is no God...or if there is, He's awful and I'd rather spend my days in hell hating the kind of God He is...than an eternity in a heaven where only certain kinds of souls are allowed to worship and commune with Him.
Unfortunately, as I've watched the hateful response from religious people in the wake of the massacre, the only other conclusion I've come to is that the hate being espoused and used to terrorize, brutalize, and literally kill LGBTQIA bodies and souls is unconscionable. Completely and without question. It is unconscionable to hate a person or community because you think their humanity is so different than yours. To think they have less value and worth than others. To do nothing to protect them and deny them their inalienable rights. To hate. Having access to weapons that kill is unconscionable, but so is harboring such hate for people that you refuse to affirm their whole person and right to exist, thrive and be. To not disavow yourself of beliefs, biases, and systems that don't completely and unconditionally affirm their humanity and dignity. It is immoral to do anything less. It is immoral to pray for them in the wake of this but also declare that they deserved it.
It is unconscionable and until we dismantle this, we will continue to be culpable. Blood will continue to be on our hands. As a person and as a citizen of this country, I am committed to doing what is necessary to protect the LBGTQIA community from hate and enable their liberation. I am committed to teaching my boys how to do the same. My question and challenge to you today, especially if you are a Christian, is what will you do?
“Hate may have visited our community. It’s taken the lives of innocent people. It has shaken us to our core and broken our hearts. But, hate will not define us. And, hate will not defeat us. Because we are ONE Orlando.”
- Mayor Buddy Dyer
Following the horrific tragedy at Pulse, there was a tremendous outpouring from the community seeking to provide financial support. In response, we announced the formation of the OneOrlando Fund. In the days since this tragedy, we heard from the community and our donors that there is a need for victims to receive direct funding support.
To ensure that funds are dispersed in a timely, accountable and transparent manner, we have formed a OneOrlando Board that will provide the oversight and guidance needed to support the victims of the Pulse tragedy and their families. I am pleased to announce the OneOrlando Board will be chaired by Orlando Magic President Alex Martins and will be comprised of community leaders including those in the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities most directly impacted.
As we move forward with the OneOrlando Fund we are consulting with victim fund expert Kenneth R. Feinberg, who served as the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, the Claims Administrator for the One Fund Boston, the Virginia Tech Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, the Aurora Victim Relief Fund and for the BP Oil Spill Claims Administration as the Compensation Fund Administrator.
We recognize there are victims in need of support now, and we ask for your patience as we ensure we are able to assist these victims in an open, transparent and equitable manner. In the coming days and weeks we will share more with you on this process and how the community will have a voice.
Thanks to the generosity of thousands of people and our lead corporate donors from across the country, we will be able to meet the needs of victims and provide the valuable services they will need in the days, weeks and months ahead.