We Are Orlando

I’ve tried to avoid being political or deal with what would be controversial topics on my wall and in my blog. I’ve tried to put the focus on me and my own struggles. But this is my struggle today, and so here it is.

I’ve tried unsuccessfully for the last 36 hours or so to put into words my feelings about the massacre in Orlando yesterday morning. I felt shock at first, and then almost immediately anger. It was my earliest belief that this was a hate crime, that no one would randomly choose to open fire in a gay nightclub – this was a statement. The first I heard about this was when the news alert woke me on my phone in the middle of the night, and there were only 20 confirmed dead at that point. By the time I had woken up the next morning, the death toll was at 50, and I was horrified at the senseless loss of innocent lives. Twenty is bad enough, but a mass shooting with 50 fatalities is unprecedented in this country.

Snippets of information came out about the shooter. He was Muslim – this was likely a terrorist attack. The shooter had called 911 beforehand pledging his allegiance to Daesh – this was definitely a terrorist attack. The family of the shooter almost immediately apologized about their son’s actions and mentioned that their son had become enraged when he had seen two men kissing in public. He wasn’t a practicing Muslim, they said. He was born in New York. He had been investigated twice by the FBI and was still allowed to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. His father was sympathetic toward the Taliban and had once run for the presidency of Afghanistan. We also started to learn about the victims. The shooting occurred during Pulse’s Latin night, and the vast majority of the victims’ names that have been released to the public appear to be Hispanic in origin.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this tragedy is that instead of bringing us closer together as a nation, it’s splitting us apart. The information that we’ve been given is a veritable soup of marginalization: Gay Hispanics shot by a Muslim proclaiming terrorist allegiances. This is a hateful crime and we have to point our hate somewhere.

Some are pointing fingers at Muslims in general. This is just further proof that we need to ban every single one of them from our country, they say. But the fact remains that this isn’t a zealous and devout Muslim – this attack occurred during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period of time in which murder is especially disavowed among practicing Muslims.

Some are pointing fingers at the LGBT community. One tweet stated that the shooter was a hero and the cops should be sued for killing a hero doing social justice. There are many others that similarly cheer the shooter for his actions. The LGBT community, however, was doing something that has been fleetingly rare in their history – gathering in what they thought was a safe place, having a good time.Was that their crime? Or was it the fact that they exist at all? Recent Supreme Court rulings have favored the LGBT community, with the capstone being marriage equality. But this incident shows that the fight for true equality is nowhere near over.

Some are pointing fingers at gun owners. It’s because guns are easy to get that these shootings occur. We need to tightly control Americans’ access to firearms. Yet every firearm owner that I know, and I know many of them, are trained with the weapons they own and are 100% responsible with them.

To be honest, unless the shooter left behind a manifesto of his actions somewhere, we may never know with absolute certainty why this tragedy occurred. It would be easy to speculate, and speculation is ripe with preconceived notions, but for now, we can’t be sure. Did he act on his own rage at coming face-to-face with a same-sex couple? Was this a radicalized lone wolf making his mark for his terrorist organization? We just can’t tell. We all have our suspicions, though, and I have my own.

But I think one of my friends on Facebook said it best. “We are all Americans. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” The fact remains that this is the worst mass shooting in American history, and there are many stories to tell.

There are the survivors, those that were there and lived to tell the tale, who will never be the same again.

There are the families of the deceased, whose lives will be forever diminished because of their loss. There is also the potential that one or more of these families will be learning of their loved one’s sexual orientation for the first time in the aftermath of the killings.

There are the investigators, who in the commission of their jobs have to listen to the unending ringtones of the victims’ cellphones from loved ones trying to check in. At the other end of every ring is a family or a friend that will eventually need to come to grips with that cellphone never being answered again.

And there are the helpers.

Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” And the helpers in Orlando are many. The lines to donate blood were several hours long. A GoFundMe page was established to raise money for the survivors. In just over a day, it’s raised over $2.1 million. Counselors and social workers are going to Orlando from all across the nation to help the community begin the healing process.

Earlier today I posted to Facebook, “I cannot vocalize the mix of emotions that I experienced yesterday as I learned about the news from Orlando and then read subsequent news and opinion about the tragedy. All I can say is that yesterday was incredibly difficult to stay plugged into social media and today, my heart still hurts for Orlando.” I still stand by that. I have many emotions that I’m still trying to process, and I haven’t gone into much detail about them here. What I have tried to do instead is put some perspective on the situation that’s still unfolding as I write these words.

Until we know for certain, I prefer to think of this as a single man, acting alone, that for whatever reason thought that killing 50 people in a nightclub was an appropriate action. Everything beyond that, at this point in time, is speculation that we’ll hopefully clear up with fact someday, so that we know why. And I believe that when we know for certain why this tragedy occurred, we can all begin the healing process.

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