I was just about to head to Penn’s Landing when I heard. The confirmed death toll from the terrorist hate crime attack at Pulse in Orlando was 20 at that point.
About an hour later, in the bright sun with a cooling breeze coming off the Delaware River at the Pride festival, amid streaming rainbows and thousands of happy festivalgoers, I checked my phone. 50 dead, 53 injured. The deadliest mass shooting in American history, an anti-LGBT hate crime so unbelievably horrific that all others pale in comparison, and there I was, celebrating Pride in my newly-adopted city, Philadelphia, celebrating my Queer identity in the bosom of the LGBT community in the city I now call home. The irony was not lost on me.
Looking up from my phone, the events of the previous night didn’t seem have dimmed the celebration at all. There wasn’t any visible acknowledgement of the attack to be found anywhere I could see at the festival. Somehow, I found that comforting. I wasn’t there to grieve. I knew there would be time for that later.
At home hours later, I sorted through the bag full of multicolored swag I’d collected during my time at Philly Pride and turned on my computer. I watched live feeds from a spontaneous gathering at the Stonewall in New York, and found an announcement of a vigil to be held here in Philly. Eventually, I just couldn’t take anymore and watched some Star Trek. More than anything else at that moment, I just needed some hope.
These days, if you’re Queer and especially if you’re trans, it’s easy to get discouraged, to feel like for every step forward we’re still taking two steps back. For every Macy decision, there’s an HB2 and a Kiesha Jenkins, for every Obergfell ruling, a HERO and an Orlando.
For every right, two stunningly unjust and heinous wrongs.
Those of us who’ve been around a while know this isn’t a new thing. It’s older than all of us, older than Pride, older than what we now call the LGBT community. It’s as old as hate. Hate for those who differ from the norm, hate for those who don’t share the beliefs of others, hate for those seen as standing in the way of certain social and cultural outlooks and political ideologies.
Hate of Queer people, of you and me, of what we believe, and of the way we choose to live our lives.
Yes, it’s easy to become discouraged, and to feel as if the only answer is to give voice to our grief, to allow it to consume us and to give full reign to our desire for righteous retribution. Tragedies like this hurt and even damage the Queer heart and soul. They change us in ways, which are both significant and permanent. They teach us that in the eyes of our enemies, as well as in our own, in a very real way we are at war.
And we will grieve, because we must when family members are taken from us. What we can’t do, however, is respond in kind. What we must do is what we’re doing now and will continue to, take Pride in ourselves, both as individuals and as a community, to continue to stand up and refuse to be bent or bowed, to refuse to live in the kind of fear terrorists seek to inspire in us or see ourselves as the lesser beings our enemies wish us to.
It’s become almost a cliché to say that we must not give to fear and let the terrorists win, but the familiarity of the sentiment doesn’t make it any less true. Our community’s history is one of fighting against the myriad of injustices inflicted upon us. In many ways, it’s what defines who we are. It’s why we still need Pride, why we need to celebrate who and what we are, to ourselves and to each other.
This is a time when we most need to draw upon our collective strength as a community and to reaffirm our commitment to leaving no one behind, not now, not ever.
We will mourn those lost in Orlando, and then we will dry our tears and fight on, because that’s who we are. Because it’s what defines us. Because this is our Pride.