It was a gay club.
It was an American club.
It was a human club.
These are not competing statements; or, rather, they should not be. They are each true and they each carry weight that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
First, and perhaps foremost, the events in Orlando hold special significance to an often persecuted group – a community that often struggles with acceptance from the world around them, including their families and friends. It was a direct attack on a group of people who – despite recent legal advancements and social acceptance – struggle every single day to feel safe and accepted. A group that cannot show affection for a loved one in public for fear of becoming a target. A group that loses so many of its members to violence and to suicide. Victims of bullies and hate-mongers, conservatives and busy-bodies, people who use their God as a reason to judge and degrade. This group has a claim on the violence that erupted in Orlando and they have a right to cry out in anguish and fear and anger. In a sacred place where they should have been safe to be themselves, safe and comfortable and secure in their own skin, free to love and be loved, they were gunned down. So yes, they will raise their fists and plant their rainbow flags and demand answers. That is their right, because it is THEIR club.
But that same event in Orlando holds special significance to Americans. It is the worst mass shooting to take place on American soil. I do not say that lightly, because although I acknowledge the atrocity of Wounded Knee (which I have seen connected to Orlando as a correction), that moment in history was a whole other ugly and violent beast. It did not technically happen on United States soil and it was not a lone shooter. It was something else – something equally horrifying and something that deserves acknowledgement as a chapter in our history of which we should be ashamed and aware. But this shooting – this moment in Orlando – belongs in a different category. The category of events where one single American decided that others must die for reasons that are beyond the understanding of good-hearted people. Those who died were Americans. They were doing what Americans do – celebrating time away from work, listening to music, dancing, and fellowshipping with others. They were enjoying a night out on the town, letting go of obligations and responsibilities. They were spending hard earned money, laughing and dancing and being alive. And they were gunned down. Torn from life, torn from those who loved them, robbed of what is promised every American – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And so, yes, I will cry and raise the stars and stripes and plant it next to their rainbow flag. I will demand answers. That is my right, because as an American, it is OUR club.
And that same event in Orlando holds special significance to humans around the world in our global community. The same people who wept for the bombings in Paris will now weep for the shooting in Orlando. They will shine the lights on their buildings, hold their signs, and pray that we, as a race of beings, can find a way to stop killing each other, stop hating each other, stop blaming everyone else for whatever ails us.
That same event in Orlando holds significance for Muslims, American and foreign. It holds significance for the Latino community because of the special event at Pulse that night. It holds special significance for the first responders and investigators who tried to do their work while blocking out the desperate, unrelenting sounds of cell phones that would never be answered. It holds special significance for those who are still – and always will be – reeling from Sandy Hook, from Virginia Tech, from the theater in Colorado, from the church in South Carolina. It holds significance for those who will never hear the voices of their loved ones or erase the images of violence and destruction from their minds. It holds significance for the people of Orlando, who now join the ranks of cities and communities that have seen the blood and tears run in their streets and feel helpless to respond, react, or recover. It matters to all of us, for a thousand reasons, some of which we cannot voice.
We do not need to take away from one another’s claims to plant our flags with theirs. We do not need to erase one community when we declare membership in another. By saying, it’s an AMERICAN club, we should not say it is NOT a gay club. It is both. The intent is admirable – to claim the LGBQT+ community as part of US….but we cannot do so in a way that silences the unique struggle that this particular community goes through every single day in a thousand ways, each more painful than the last. They are our brothers and sisters, but their struggle is one that we can only imagine and while we can unite, we cannot silence even as we try to combat.
It is a significant event for all of these people, for all of these communities, for all of these reasons. Not one should silence the others. Not one needs to be or should be forgotten. They all wish for the same thing – an end to the violence, an end to the hatred, an end to the suffering. Let our flags fly together and let our voices unite. Protect the LGBTQ+ community, protect Americans, protect humans. Protect us all, and let us all be who we are. Let voices be heard. Tolerance is not enough - we must listen, respect, accept, and love. Love.