The moment before the horrific June 12 slaughter in Orlando struck, many of us were feeling unprecedented acceptance, a legitimization of our civil rights, and a sense of affirmation and security. We were celebrating Gay Pride month and legal victories, such as the historic U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality ruling last June.
Then came the carnage. The Pulse nightclub massacre of 49 members of our community was a terrorist act and a hate crime against the LGBT community, against the Latino community, and against all Americans.
How do we move on after the worst mass public shooting in U.S. history was perpetrated on our people? How do we heal? How can we again feel safe?
Although we are heartened by the immediate and overall outcry of public outrage and support, how do we harness such support without a backlash? Many of us felt discouraged days later, as the Senate voted down four bills for increased gun control. How will we respond?
When people become afraid, how do they react? Some have suggested that the slaughter in Pulse occurred because our community is weak, unarmed, and vulnerable.
Do we want guns in our clubs? Is arming our community appropriate? Do we react with defensiveness and more violence?
Do we react with generous contributions to the families and loved ones who were so profoundly affected?
Do we react with fear? Do we react by isolating ourselves and avoiding clubs or other public venues?
Do we react to the recurrent violence against us with numbness, apathy and indifference?
Do we react by becoming more politically aware, outspoken and active (as suggested by Ron Megee in his #iscreamforchange challenge on Facebook)? Do we react with club fundraisers, skills we developed in response to the AIDS crisis, and then inaction and apathy over the long term?
What is personal is also political, and what is political is very personal. Cultural and social changes are slow, arduous, unfair and unsteady processes.
Look at our history with the civil rights movement: 52 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, yes, we have an African American president, but racial inequality and racial oppression are still rampant. You can see these faults reflected in police violence against blacks, the disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic males in prison, continued unequal opportunities in education, and economic disparities.
One Supreme Court marriage equality decision and all the laws against discrimination are important steps forward for LGBTQ people, but they cannot guarantee an end to intolerance, discrimination, bullying or violence. We have come a long way in a generation, and our struggle against hatred and bigotry will continue for many years.
Our momentum is still forward, and we will persist.
The bloodbath in Orlando has affected us all. Individually and collectively, we will determine the legacy of the Orlando massacre.
Let us not forget that we are strong in community and in fellowship with others. Let us stand together, rather than cower and withdraw in fear. If we separate from one another, we become isolated and vulnerable. By affirming our differences and bonding together to forge a multi-minority community, we can stand strong.
Violence and terroristic threats cannot vanquish our Pride. We can channel our outrage into fundraising, political action, and becoming stronger advocates for social and cultural change. We can educate each other, our friends, and our families. We can vote.
Our strong response, showing continued resolve and respectful connections with each other, will be our enduring gift for generations to come. Our courage, determination and dignity can honor those who have fallen.
Remember Stonewall – depending on how we respond, this tragedy can ultimately make the world a more tolerant and safe place for all of us.
Jason Carrigan, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist practicing at Diversity Counseling. He is active in the leadership of the Greater Kansas City LGBT-Affirming Therapists Guild (www.lgbtguild.com).
This column was written with input and suggestions from Russell Campillo, Brian Hubbard, Judi Howen, MA, LPC, an LGBT-Affirming Guild member, and numerous others.