It seems so simple to say that 49 people died on Sunday morning in Orlando, in what is the worst mass shooting in recent US history. Laid out like that, it’s just a fact, an event that will soon end up in history books and that students will learn about in class — something that people discuss along the same lines as terrorism, 9/11, Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc.
But for those of us residing in the area, it’s a lot more than just a fact. It’s a reality we had to face, after waking up Sunday morning and seeing it on the news, or reading about it on facebook. It’s a reality that we anxiously texted our friends to make sure no one we knew was at Pulse that night. It’s a reality that we refreshed the page with the victim’s names as they were being released, just to double check if we knew anyone.
It’s a reality that 49 of our neighbors were murdered in cold blood, because a shooter was angry he saw two gay men kissing, or because he was gay and couldn’t deal with it, or because he supported ISIS. Whatever the reason, it took 49 lives away from their friends and families way too soon, and we can’t forget about it.
The first thing about the massacre that struck me was that it wasn’t just a senseless act of violence, it was an attack against the LGBT+ and Latinx communities of Orlando. The shooter (whose name will never cross my lips or be formed by my fingers) didn’t just open his phone and drop a pin on a map to decide where to go. He had been to Pulse multiple times, was even recognized by Pulse regulars, and made a calculated decision to take those lives away from innocent people.
The second thing that struck me was just how close to home it hit. As if the fact that this took place in the city I’ve called home for the last four years weren’t enough, the attack was at the one and only gay club I’ve ever been to, during Latin night, where two of my sister’s coworkers were, where one of my friends was supposed to be, where one of my coworkers had been but left early — and to top it off, the shooter was from the town my parents live in and even went to my high school for a year.
It’s chilling to think about how small the world is when I put it like that, but the point is that it isn’t about me. It’s about the 49 lives that were lost, the 49 people who were just out to enjoy life, to spend time with friends or their significant others, who felt safe in a space that was supposed to be safe.
This massacre is a somber reminder of the dangers queer people still face just for being ourselves, for being proud of who we are and not afraid to show it. I thought Orlando was a bubble of love and acceptance, where I could go out with my girlfriend, hold hands and kiss without worrying about being violently attacked or killed.
But now every LGBT+ person in Orlando, in Florida, and in the rest of the country will question their safety. What we previously thought was safe might not be anymore, and that’s why we can’t ever forget that this wasn’t just an act of terrorism, it was an act of hate. It was an act that targeted LGBT+ and Latinx people, and we need to stand up and speak out about it, lest people forget.
This week has been hard. This week, I’ve cried, hugged my friends, told everyone I loved them, because life is too short to let those words be unsaid. But it’s been beautiful and humbling to be part of a community where as soon as they ask for people to donate blood, lines at donation centers are five or six hours long.
Where a GoFundMe campaign gets thousands of dollars immediately, and is at four million dollars only five days after the attack.
Where people are donating their time and money to do everything necessary to help out the victims’ families, where doctors and nurses were waking up in the middle of the night to go help their coworkers, where the Orlando Police Department was working tirelessly to figure out the motive behind this senseless crime and bring answers to the families.
And for that, I’m proud to be an Orlandoan. I’m proud to have moved here four years ago and to call the City Beautiful my home, because we are #OrlandoStrong.