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  • Writer's pictureLilith Starr

In the Aftermath of Orlando

It took days for the words to come, after the shock of the shooting. At first they were other people’s words, friends’ feelings, shared. We passed many of these around─someone said exactly what we were feeling, someone posted a photo of themselves being strong, of vigils, of the same moment around the world when so many came together to grieve. I saw a flood of personal stories, fierce defiance in the face of hatred, raging grief combined with the fortitude to fight for our right to exist. I saw people standing together with candles and rainbow flags, strangers hugging in Germany, England, Seattle. The immensity of the tragedy overwhelmed me, and I took solace in those other stories, passed around with the reverence given the most sacred texts.

This too long has been our scripture, those of us on the edges: hatred, bigotry, rejection, an assault on our very right to exist. It’s been codifed into our nation’s laws by the religious extremist majority controlling our state and local legislatures: even basic protection of our civil rights has been outlawed as if it were a crime. Our community is in the headlines for the constant assaults on it--starting with bigoted religious leaders in our government and in our churches, filtering down to the parents who deny their own children love and acceptance, and usually ending in the quiet suicide or hate crime that snuffs one life.

The attack in Orlando--50 dead--is simply a larger arm of the same spiral of prejudice and hate that has tried to squash our community for so many years. Its magnitude is overwhelming, though, and for many of us it feels like we knew the victims, we WERE the victims. This was a devastating attack on a community that’s been under fire simply for being who we are, loving who we love, for so long.

But this tragedy is teaching me something, as I see people coming together, reaching out, coming out for the first time. We are a strong community, and we are legion. All of us marginalized and demonized, queers and allies, freaks of all stripes: we are many, and together we form a vast network. It’s that network I see lighting up as we wake from the shock, strangers sharing love, all of us collectively saying ENOUGH.

We demand not just tolerance, but ACCEPTANCE. We have every right to exist, every right to the same freedoms. There is nothing wrong with us. The religious bigots have cowed so many in the mainstream, who keep their heads down and pretend they aren’t part of the prejudice machine. So many people are wrapped up tightly in their own hate, wound around their high moral judgments of those who are simply different while in their own ranks, child rapists are protected.

This is unacceptable to us. This is our nation, and we’re taking our rightful place at the table. We’ve started raising our voices, putting up our hands for the count: I’m queer, I’m gay, pansexual, transgender, nonbinary. We’re connecting with each other, because the Internet is a marvelous thing that can bring us together across great distances.

Let this web continue to grow. It will take all of us to fight for this community, and from what I’ve seen, everyone is willing. Silence does equal death. We will no longer be silent. We’ve had enough abuse, assault and bigotry, and the lonely silence of the closet is being discarded in favor of connection and community, even under the threat of rejection or attack. We are here, we are queer, and we stand together in coming out of the woodwork.

Reach out to the community, raise your voice, be proud of who you are. Call the bigots on their shit. Vote the shrill religious extremists out of office--show up for every election and make your will known. Write letters. Keep the momentum going. We’ve come together for solace and understanding; let’s stay together even after the shock has long gone. Get out there to your Pride festivals and hug each other tightly; wave your flags without fear in the face of bigotry and hate. For we are many, we are strong, and we are connected.

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