My Reaction to Orlando

I tend to cry really easily. I freely admit that I tear up during every Disney movie and romantic comedy I watch—no matter how cheesy. Pictures of baby animals always get me. Orchestral music is pretty much guaranteed to turn on the waterworks. And when I see or hear someone else crying, I immediately start crying myself.

My cheeks have been even more wet than usual these past two weeks. On June 12, I was flying home from a national convention of lawyers that I had attended in Washington, D.C. when I read the initial news about the Orlando shooting. As I sat in the Denver airport for four hours during my layover, I had tears streaming down my face as I continued to learn more about that awful tragedy.

I was not celebrating LGBT Pride Month in Pulse that night. I did not personally know any of the forty-nine people who were brutally murdered. Truth be told, I don’t have any direct connections to the shooting at all. And yet when I heard the news that Sunday morning, the attack in Orlando felt like a direct attack on me.

I have spent plenty of late nights in nightclubs dancing, relishing in the fact that everyone there was like me and I could simply be myself. In fact, I was dancing in a DC nightclub as part of Capital Pride at the very time the shooting started. That could have easily been me that night and my personal sense of security was shattered. I could also imagine my mom having to receive one of those 49 phone calls that were made that day, letting her know that her son had been killed. I can feel her grief. I can see the tears streaming down her face. Imagining her tears only brought more of my own.

While going through social media, these feelings have seemed to be shared among a large number of my LGBT friends. This attack was an attack on us all. Our community has come together in mourning these past two weeks, not only for the lives of those lost, but for the loss of our sense of security in the midst of so much progress. However, amidst our collective tears we have stood up, demonstrating our pride in the face of fear. I have seen friends come out to their friends and family. I have seen people stand up for what they believe in. I have seen strength amid sadness.

Naturally, not all the reactions to this shooting have been so cohesive, particularly because of its status as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Understandably, people want to find a way to stop these tragedies from happening. Both media pundits and politicians began giving their views on terrorism and Muslims. And they started arguing about what should or shouldn’t be done to control gun ownership. It only took a few hours before the collective shock began to wear off and our national discourse slowly descended back into its normal divisiveness.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think these discussions are important ones to have. We need to find better ways to combat terror and protect our communities. And I firmly believe that our gun control laws need to be tightened—assault weapons have no place being on our streets, especially in the hands of those being investigated for ties to terrorism. I believe these are important changes that need to be made as soon as possible. But our arguments these days tend to not just be respectful disagreements where common ground and compromise can be found. Arguments today are generally full of vitriolic comments, rancorous debates, and hostility towards the opposing side.

For this reason, it was such a breath of fresh air to see the comments made by our Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, at the vigil held outside the Salt Lake City and County Building on Monday night. Rather than blaming or excluding others, he took fault onto himself and apologized for the times in the past he had discriminated against members of the LGBT community. Instead of insisting that he knew exactly how to solve our societal dilemmas, he recognized that there was no easy solution to any of our problems, and that politicians such as he weren’t the ones who would solve them. In place of contributing to more divisiveness, fear, and hate, Spencer Cox encouraged us to come together, stand strong, and love.

I don’t know what the future holds—anything could happen tomorrow. But these last weeks have shown me the truth of Albus Dumbledore’s words: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” I found that light when I joined together with my LGBT brothers and sisters to honor the victims of the shooting. I found that light when I stood proud of who I am, refusing to retreat back into the closet and fear. And I found that light as I heard from and remembered all the people who I love and who love me in this world. I found that there is so much good and light in the world, even amongst the darkness and the tears.

-Chase Thomas

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