As ashamed as I am to admit this, when it comes to shootings in America, I’m suffering from serious compassion fatigue. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, compassion fatigue is the apathy that arises from repeated exposure to crises. It seems like every other day I see a breaking news alert on a shooting. Last week it was Boston, today it was Texas. So when I learned early Sunday morning that there was a shooting at an Orlando nightclub, I rolled over and went back to sleep. It was just another shooting, just another day.
I woke again to worried texts from my family, only to understand the magnitude of the situation. Hostages were taken and then killed in a gay night club on Latinx night. The body count was initially reported at 20, because the police didn’t discover the numerous others until later. Over 100 people were killed or wounded, and doctors at Orlando Regional Medical Center say still more may succumb to their injuries.
Only hours before, my friends and I contemplated going to Machine, one of Boston’s gay clubs, where my close friend was bartending. We’d spent the day at Boston’s Pride Parade and the Back Bay Block Party, celebrating our remarkable community. At the block party, one lesbian said to me, “It’s my first time around this many queer women. I’ve never felt so loved.” Although it wasn’t my first Pride, I had to agree. I believed that here, we were home. Despite the religious protestors, hate would not flourish at this event. We would unapologetically be ourselves and we would do so in safety. Had we gone to Machine afterwards, I imagine it would’ve been packed to capacity with queer folks of all ages, colors and genders, while security attempted to keep the single narrow staircase clear for safety purposes.
I can only believe that the solidarity and safety I found at that block party, the queer community of Orlando found at Pulse. Omar Mateen attempted to take that from not only Orlando’s community, but from all of us. He perpetrated what we’re calling the nation’s deadliest mass shooting and intentionally targeted a hub of the queer community. How long will this massacre hold this title? A few weeks? Several months? How long will it take for our country to get divided by arguments on radical Islam, or gun control, or mental illness, and forget that people died? How long before we forget that an American man chose to kill based on hatred born and bred in America?
Every time we stall out on gun control laws, we fail these victims. When we slash funding for mental health care, we set the stage for another tragedy. When we ignore the facts and point to buzzwords like radical Islam, we foster the growth of hatred and fear. And when our pain is used to further a political career, we do more than let down everyone affected by this horrific violence: we insult them.
As a nation, we failed not only the victims in Orlando, but Mateen himself. We fueled his belief that pledging his life to ISIL in a 911 call would bring him infamy. We subsequently granted him said infamy when our politicians emphasize his links to international terror groups, all the while minimizing the queer identities of the victims. We refused to pass laws that would have prevented him from easily acquiring weapons. We argued over who can use a public restroom, demonizing trans* people and feeding into anti-queer bigotry. We created this and it is our responsibility to dismantle it. If not for the victims of Pulse or Charleston or Columbine, then for your own loved ones.
Remember that the answer to homophobia and transphobia is not Islamophobia, but the acceptance of diversity. Say the names of the victims. Honor their bravery and resiliency in the face of a world that seeks to eradicate people like us. Understand that darkness cannot drive out darkness and that for you, it is not too late to stand up and create a better world. Do not let their deaths be in vain.