I woke up Sunday to a series of text messages, phone calls and Facebook messages asking if I was OK.
I opened the Facebook app on my phone to post after post about the Orlando Pulse - initially it was 20 dead and double that injured. Throughout the day that number climbed to 50 dead and 53 injured - the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, according to media outlets.
A number of things ran through my mind on Sunday:
"This is intense. I'm thankful no one I know was killed or injured, and my heart hurts for the friends and families of those who were."
"Why didn't Pulse security stop this individual before lives were lost and people were injured?"
"How could so many people have been shot and killed by one shooter without a group within the crowd trying to overpower or stop him?"
"We've come so far as a community, but there's still work that needs to be done within the sub-cultures that make up the American culture."
"People will confuse Islam with radical Islam, and confuse all Muslims as terrorists. This incident isn’t going to help."
"Is this a hate crime? Is this terrorism?"
"Was this part of a coordinated effort to target other LGBT events during Pride Month?"
These questions or ones similar to it probably ran through the minds of many of you as well. As a journalist, it's my job to put things in perspective, to investigate, to confirm, to report.
Here are responses and answers to my questions (and maybe yours):
A friend of mine, Angel Colon, a resident of Orlando, was shot three times and trampled as club-goers tried to escape the terror of the events of early Sunday morning. He was supposed to go to Detroit Pride with me this weekend, and it didn't work out. I wish that it did work out that way, and he was safe and unharmed. He survived and is on the road to recovery, thankfully.
During Detroit Pride, there was a cover charge of $5 to cover the cost of event security. You were wanded for any weapons before you could enter. In addition, there was a strong security presence inside the Pride downtown event. The point is that even though we should be able to do what we want to do in a free society, we have to be cautious and take extra security measures to try to prevent tragedies like this don't happen again.
Like it or not, many Muslims are Americans. That means they were born here. They are part of America, just as much as Italians, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Asians, Jews and any other racial or ethnic group. However, there needs to be a national campaign to integrate and educate Muslims on homosexuality. Many Muslims are strongly against homosexuality, and in some Middle Eastern countries, they are executed if found out as gay. In some other countries, such as Iran, homosexuality is considered a mental disorder and sex changes are paid for by the government.
Islam is not a radical religion. In fact, Islam shares many similarities with Christianity and other major religions of the world. In the Catholic religion, many priests over the years were convicted as child predators and rapists. Did we label all Catholics as such? No. Similarly, we can't label all Muslims as terrorists. Additionally, ISIS is not even a part of the Muslim religion. I'm from Detroit, so I grew up around one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in this country. I'm grateful, because I know that a majority of Muslims are sweet, caring, honest, God (Allah) fearing people. If you get the chance to talk or befriend a Muslim, do so. Just like we've helped break down barriers and eliminate misconceptions about the LGBT community, let them do the same for us about them.
This was a hate crime and it was an act of terrorism. The shooter was investigated by the FBI previously for terrorist connections. It wasn't one or the other. It was both, and we should have an open discussion about why it was both, and the importance of keeping it equally labeled.
It's so hard to talk about lessons or what could have been differently when lives are lost, and people have been injured.
For me, it all comes down to one thing. And, this one thing is something that our community - the LGBT family - does better any other race or ethnicity in this country. That thing is love. So let's not stop loving ourselves, each other or our neighbors, which includes Muslims.
The only solution to hate is love, so let's keep using the same weapon we have for years against homophobia and violence against our community.
Also, we can't and shouldn't stop going to gay bars, having pride events or showing each other affection in public. It's been reported that the gunman became upset after seeing two men kiss recently in front of him and his family.
Like my Aunt Trina always says, and it's cheesy but appropriate, I think: We're here and we're queer.
We're not going anyway. We aren't going to hide. We aren't going to back down. We are going to continue to lead by example and intelligently push past homophobia, as we have always done.
Stay safe. Stay vigilant. Stay the course for peace.
For those of you interested in donating to Angel's recovering fund, you can visit https://www.gofundme.com/29eusrqs.