Last Sunday, an armed man opened fire at Pulse, a popular gay club in Orlando, FL. His decision to open fire cost 49 beautiful people their lives, left 53 others physically injured, and has deeply wounded the LGBT community. According to CNN (and other outlets), this is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.
I don’t know a lot about the shooter, Omar. Maybe he had connections to ISIS, maybe he was a closeted homosexual who was struggling with his sexuality, and maybe he was just raised poorly and subsequently became this killer. I’m not entirely sure about who he was, and why he did this. But, I do know a lot about being behind the barrel of that gun, figuratively.
I have been openly gay for 8 years now. At first, I struggled with coming out to myself. I told myself that I was confused, bi-curious, or just having fun. Ultimately, I knew that I was a lesbian, and that I couldn’t lie to myself.
Then, I struggled with coming out to my mom. She’d disgustingly ask me if I was gay, because God didn’t like that. Of course, I’d deny it. At some point I stopped denying it, because why would she repeatedly ask if she didn’t already know.
Then, I struggled with coming out to my few friends, knowing that everything would change when they found out. And they did. A lot of my friends came from the church, and I knew that coming out meant saying goodbye. To date, I am still friends with only 1 person from the church.
Lastly, and most painfully, I came out to God. I was saved and baptized in June of 2008, and still consider that the most important event in my life. Having to accept who I was and tell God that I was a lesbian was probably the most emotional, gut-wrenching thing I’ve done. And in classic Lord-fashion, His love for me overfilled my cup, and our relationship flourished.
Flash forward to now, and I am an openly gay woman married to another openly gay U.S. Marine. I proudly showcase our pictures on my desktop wallpaper, on my desk, on social media, and in public. We go to Pride parades, we correct people when they ask about our husbands, and we have plans for the future.
In a way, we’re not different from the victims in Orlando. They were openly gay, they were celebrating, and they had future plans. To the left you will see a victim from the shootings, Shane Tomlinson. He sang in the worship team in the same church where I was saved and baptized. Although I didn’t know him well, I knew that he loved God, that we both loved that particular church, and that we were both minorities trying to find the good in the world. I’m not sure why others lived and he died. To be fair, I’m sure that the survivors also wonder why they lived, when so many others died. Shane’s parents were interviewed by CNN, and they confirm that the what-ifs are the worst. What if Shane hadn’t gone out that night? What if Omar’s wife/friends were better at noticing his erratic behavior? What if we had better gun laws in place, to avoid easy access? What if it doesn’t matter, and in the end people will always try to kill us?
This mass shooting, in particular, affected gay men of color. Easily, this could be me. This could be my wife. And if my kids are gay, it could be them. Shey and I have already been assaulted in Chicago for standing too close to each other on a train platform. That was just 1 guy with a knife who didn’t like that we were gay–and Omar was another guy who also didn’t like that these people were gay. I am behind the barrel of that gun every day. The power is in the person behind the gun, whether or not they choose to pull the trigger. Omar has reminded me of that.
I don’t know the best way to solve this problem, or if it can be solved at the moment. I don’t know if people in my life are disgusted by me, and if one day I will die because of their hate. Despite that possibility, I cannot and will not hide.
I am an openly gay woman, but I am also a dear friend. I am a loyal wife, and a hard-working science researcher. I have flaws, of course, but my good outweighs all of my bad. If you were to befriend me, you’d see that gay people aren’t scary, and that we don’t deserve to die. You’d see that we are funny, caring, and that we are empathetic to all of your struggles. I pray that we all heal from this shooting, and that one day being gay won’t be a death sentence.