Yesterday, the deadliest mass shooting in US History occurred in my hometown of Orlando, Florida. 49 victims confirmed dead and a multitude of others wounded. The shooter is dead, but let’s not talk about him.
When I first heard that there was a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, my first thought was “Was it the Parliament House?” on Orange Blossom Trail? To be honest, I don’t even know if that club is still there but way back in the day….like way back…..it was THE club for the gay community to go to. And I went. Twice. Those who know me may wonder why on earth did I go to a gay club? In all transparency, I asked myself that question, too. Here’s why…..
In junior high, I fell hard for a boy. Let’s call him G. He was beautiful. Still is beautiful. He was a close friend and I adored him. There was a little kissing that went on a couple of times but nothing more than that. We were friends who were involved in our Youth Group. His sister was one of my besties and we all saw each other Wednesdays and Sundays and during any activities in between. Youth group was the best. They were some really good years!
One night, G and I were sitting in the parking lot at the local pizza place our group often went to after church and he said, “I have something to tell you. You are going to hate me. You’re probably going to cry and you might even hit me.” My reply? “I’m not going to hate you, hit you or cry. Silly. What is it?”
He went on to tell me that he was gay. He liked boys. I didn’t believe him at first. I didn’t want to believe him. I cried. I hit his arm. I told him I hated him.
Of course, I didn’t hate him. But I was so heartbroken. And my hopes of love, marriage and a baby carriage were dissipated all in one evening in a Sunbird car in a pizza parlor parking lot.
G told me that I was the first straight person he had told. I felt honored. I think. And after a few weeks of sulking (that would be me, not him), I wanted to know more. So G invited me to go to the Parliament House with him to see what it was all about. I rounded up one of our other youth group friends, K and off we went with much fear, trepidation and curiosity.
It was apparent that G had spent a bit of time here. He knew his way around. Knew many of the unbelievably gorgeous men that were there. This was the early 80’s and the gay scene was beginning to become a bit more known. When I was a child, you’d know kids who had gay tendencies, people would call them rude names and you went on your with your day. But you didn’t actually really know someone who liked someone of the same sex and if you did, it wasn’t out there for the world to know about.
This club was a safe haven for the men who lived this lifestyle. And whether you believe it’s genetic or by choice/environment, they found safety here. They found community. They found a shelter from the onslaught of mean words, beatings and abuse that would happen outside of the doors of that club.
I watched a Drag Show and my eyes most certainly bugged out of my head seeing these men dressed as women. And many who looked better than a woman would in the same outfit (how unfair is that?!). I laughed and crazily enough, enjoyed the evening. And went back a second time because I wanted to know G’s world. I loved him. He was my friend.
Fast forward to today and the Pulse Nightclub, where the LGBTQ community goes for fun, community, dancing and safety was attacked by a mad man. Why did this happen? What point was the gunman trying to make? Why there? So many why’s but not enough answers.
I grew up in this city. In fact, I spent more than half of my entire life living in Orlando. The nightclub is right next door to the spot where my Father’s Sunoco Gas Station was. My Nana and Aunt and cousin lived up the street. This was home. These are familiar grounds. Precious grounds loaded with memories.
Our hearts break with our hometown. To see the app on Facebook where survivors can check in saying that they are “SAFE” rips my heart apart every time it appears in my newsfeed. We have so many friends and family there. And even though we don’t know any of the victims personally, our heart is broken for them. For their families. For the community that we love so much. For our friends and family who live there still and are truly feeling the effects (much like we did while living in Boston during 9-11).
The hate needs to end. Agree to disagree. Love without judgment. Grieve with our friends in the LGBTQ community. Mourn with them. Be present. Tell them you see them. You understand. They exist. Show love. They are enough.
It’s not our job to tell someone if we agree with their choices. Yes, it’s hard to keep those lips zipped sometimes, but let me say it again. IT. IS. NOT. OUR. JOB. Leave conviction to the Holy Spirit. Be open to our own growth and changes.
Sidenote: The use of the phrase “gay community” is due to the fact that in the 1980’s, that was the coined phrase. I recognize that it is now LGBTQ and this is reflected as my blog moves along in time.