I attended my sister’s high school graduation on Sunday, June 12, and listened to speeches on hope and positive societal change in a crowd filled with many about to begin their adult lives.
In the same 24 hours, the United States suffered its largest mass shooting in history with a homophobic hate crime resulting in the loss of 50 lives and the injury of 53 others at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando that was filled with many enjoying Latin Night. In the same 48 hours, singer Christina Grimmie was shot while meeting fans after her concert in Orlando.
What happened to Christina Grimmie and what happened with the homophobic killings in Pulse have caused a sense of complete frustration — my heart is aching that these tragedies are so common. Every single day horrific events are occurring — the disgusting truth is that, for many of us, there is a high chance we will not know about them if the lives impacted are not valued by mainstream media, do not impact members of our immediate communities or do not impact those in our lives. We must recognize this as a fault, not try to justify it and take active steps to remedy it by being proactive consumers of information.
After these two tragedies, many have been sending their thoughts and prayers. But while some might find that comforting, what substantive action will follow and be implemented to make sure we, as a society, are doing everything we can to prevent gun violence and to protect those in the LGBTQIA+ community?
For starters, each of us must do our part of recognizing the beliefs and behaviors that stem from homophobia and hatred in our own communities — an example being one ignoring the overlap of LGBTQIA+ , racial and religious identities. Audre Lorde once said, “Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.” If we play a part in the creation of binaries — making it seem as if these identities are mutually exclusive — we are responsible for causing many to be silent when they otherwise would be steadfast in their solidarity. If we recognize the rooted problems in our communities that oppress members within and outside our communities, we have a responsibility to do what we can to eradicate it if we can do so without putting our physical, emotional and mental safety at risk. How could we live with ourselves if we could and did not?
While our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters are being killed, how can we genuinely call ourselves lovers of humanity if we’re staying silent? When another life is lost and yet again nothing changes for gun control, how can we say we really want to put an end to shootings if we’re staying silent?
These feelings — these moments of complete and utter shock over how cruel mankind can be — will never go away. We will unfortunately always find moments of genuine beauty and clarity in our lives being put to an end when suddenly we feel our hearts breaking and find ourselves staring at a news headline wanting to scream. I can’t pretend that this pain is temporary and that if we all held hands it would stop. It’s what we feel we can do with these feelings that matters and lessens the frequency of deaths and injustice motivated by hate.
“I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do,” the student speaker at Salem High School’s graduation said, quoting Helen Keller to a graduating class of more than 1,000.
Afterward, I spoke with a graduating senior, Patricia Freitag, in the crowd.
“I’m livid,” she told me. “I’m really angry at how this country has let things get this far, how I have stood by and mourned for the families but never actively done something.”
We are all one, but together, we are all bodies of change and a future that doesn’t have to learn about yet another mass killing, another injustice, another act of hate every single day.
“The first step is bringing awareness,” Freitag said. “People say that there’s no point in retweeting things, but look at the huge platform it’s given younger generations — a platform that others cannot ignore and goes worldwide. There’s also petitioning, signing and writing to your representatives and local governments, which many seem to ignore because they believe one signature or one call is too small. But if everyone whose signature was so minuscule made that small dent, collectively we could make one of the largest impacts our generation has ever seen.”
My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones as a result of homophobic mass shooting in Orlando — to those who have been severely traumatized and impacted by the aftermath. My heart goes out to those in the LGBTQIA+ community who are in the closet and couldn’t publicly grieve, seek comfort from their loved ones or solace from their friends and who were once again forced to suffer through pain and heartbreak alone. My heart goes out to to the Muslims who may experience Islamophobia as a result of this — especially those at the intersection of the LGBTQIA+ and Muslim identity. My heart goes out to to the family and loved ones of Christina Grimmie, to her big brother who had to watch his little sister die and her fans who saw someone they loved shot right before their eyes.
To those of you who are able, who are feeling a hundred emotions at once and who want to genuinely help prevent things like this in the future, please speak up and do what you can when you hear or see hate. People’s lives — their hopes, dreams and loved ones — are depending on it. I am still only one, and so are you, but together we’ll make a powerful many.
Nadia Karizat can be reached at email@example.com.