OpEd: An Open Letter to Straight Friends

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Here, on the streets of Orlando, the mood is somber. But there is also a new intersection of hope, because the city is holding hands, regardless of sex or status, color or creed.

A week ago, the LGBT community was celebrating Gay Days; thousands of men and women playing and partying under the sun. A week later at the Pulse nightclub, the pulse of our nation was interrupted, stunned and shattered by bullets and blood.

Gay men and women have emerged from the shadows in America. We no longer worry so much about the 'closet.' There is just a small curtain. You can push it aside and step into the sunlight. We are welcome in all walks of life and we lead the way in ever so many ways. But like so many other minorities in America, we have always been, and are still, targets.

Hate has never been far away. Unfortunately, you don't have to look to the Middle East or the Islamic State group to find vitriol. It has always been around the corner, too often reverberated in Sunday sermons and then echoed weekly by politicians never affording us dignity or respect.

We have always been second-class citizens to many. Our acts have been perverted, our sex queer and our lifestyles aberrant. Our rights have been denied, our liberties questioned and our love not sanctioned. When we got sick, we were ostracized rather than healed, and when we have been tortured and hurt, we have been told it's God's will.

You think this is all a relic of the past? No, not when there are world religions still teaching that gays deserve to die. No, not when there are 70 countries who can imprison us simply because of who we are. No, not when we can't give blood, but our blood still flows on the streets of our cities.

We are a community still fighting for equality, from bathrooms to our workplaces. We have battled to serve in the military, marry in our chapels and derive the same legal and tax benefits straight couples have. We don't mind rising to courtroom challenges and advocating in public forums for equality, but we should not have to fight for our lives in nightclubs.

Gay bars are our private palaces, secret sanctuaries, homes away from home; our rights of passage into our own ecosystem. They are where we first came out, met our partners, discovered our identities. Whether with leather, lipstick or lace, we found a world of love that was all our own.

In Orlando, the bullets of another false revenge sought to take us down. They only brought us all together. We can debate about the validity of gay marriages tomorrow. Today, we know in our hearts and heads that we all have a lot more in common then we do apart.

We celebrated Stonewall with a parade this past weekend. But know this about our community — Stonewall was no parade. Stonewall was a riot against the police, launched by drag queens and gay bar patrons who simply had enough. No more abuse, they said; no more beatings. They fought back.

Today, it falls upon us to fight back again. We need advocacy, not apathy. First and foremost, we have to be intolerant of intolerance. We can't look the other way when we are degraded or demeaned. We have to be accepted unconditionally, not tolerated pleasantly.

We lived for years as victims of violence, abused and bullied, ridiculed and wronged. Unfortunately, the massacre in Orlando is an indelible reminder that the path is not yet so clear for us. The road still needs to be paved, the street widened to provide equality for all.

Like Harvey Milk, like Matthew Shepard, we will not go silently into the night. We will memorialize the victims with our spirit and strength. Where there is hate, we will preach love. Where there is chaos, we will create community.

Mark it down that Orlando will not doom us. It will unite us. Justice and righteousness  is on our side.

Hope will prevail, and we hope you will be by our side. This week, so many of you have, so on behalf of the LGBTQ community of South Florida, we thank you. 


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