“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” -Lin Manuel Miranda
This article was originally published for The Odyssey on June 14, 2016.
On June 12, 2016, 50 individuals were gunned down during the early hours at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The gunman, who does not even deserve to be named or be made infamous, opened fire in the club and took hostages with an assault rifle, a handgun, and several rounds of ammunition. This mass shooting is being labeled at the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It is also the 133rd mass shooting this year. This tragedy should also be labeled as a hate crime because it was “a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.” Pulse, the club where the shooting took place, was holding a Latin-themed night, which promised fun for all who attended. Before you claim that race is not a factor in this crime, I beg you to realize that a majority of the victims were people of color, and race is absolutely a factor in this terrible happening.
On this Sunday, men and women of all ages and from all different walks of life were having a blast at Pulse, which is famous for being not only an open nightclub but also a safe space for LGBT and LGBT Latin communities. The terror that these people experienced is unimaginable. As the first gunshots erupted, chaos exploded, and this space ceased its reign of safety. As if mass murder were not enough, the evil man also took hostages in the bathrooms, terrifying anyone and everyone in close proximity to both he and the club. As I sit here writing this article, three days after the shooting, my heart refuses to stop racing, and my panic does not even measure up to what these poor human beings witnessed that night. No one should ever have to experience such violence.
Let us not rush and assume that this was radical Islamism, though so many have already jumped on that bandwagon. Though I believe it is important to recognize the shooter’s embracing of ISIS, I also believe that we should pay close attention to the timing of all of this. Ramadan, an extremely holy Muslim holiday, is still going on and will continue until July 5th. If he was as devout a Muslim as many are saying, know that he would have never committed such an act of sin. Just as he should not represent all of Orlando, he should also not be pegged into representing all of Islam. Let’s not focus on what religion the shooter was, or who he represents, and let us focus on what this shooting actually is: the last wake up call I ever want to see reported on the news.
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to use this opportunity and this tragedy to talk about gun violence and gun control. I know that this is sticky and tricky subject, so if this is something that triggers you or upsets you, I invite you to scroll to just after the photo of the woman with the Orlando sign. However, if guns and gun violence just make you uncomfortable, well, they should.
After the Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012, so many swore that they would never be silent about gun control again, and while many have been fighting, issues such as these can be swept under the rug as time passes, and the victims names, their stories, and their families are forgotten. A mass shooting is defined by having at least four people shot and killed or wounded, not including the shooter in that tally. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 998 mass shootings. There were 372 shootings last year, in 2015. There have been 133 shootings already in 2016, and it is only June. This problem is not getting any better.
This problem needs to stop being swept under the rug. It is time to stop hitting the snooze button. It is time to march on behalf of our fallen brothers and sisters, especially the ones who are not safe to be who they truly are out in the open.
While changing your Facebook profile photo to support Orlando is nice, and praying and lighting candles are wonderful ways of coping, they are not fixing this problem. They are not even really helping to raise awareness for this problem. Awareness is not the problem. Learning how to utilize the voices we were given in order to make a change and do some good in this world is becoming the problem.
The restriction of guns and change of gun laws are a touchy subject. I do not mean to offend anyone or disrespect anyone’s views here; I am only trying to shine some light on a problem that we need to start paying attention to. Some people believe that no matter how many restrictions we place on guns and firearms, no matter how many background checks we have to enable, these criminals will still find a way to acquire these guns. While this may be true, wouldn’t you rather attempt and try to slow down the process they need to endure to obtain these weapons? I, personally, would rather try to fix something and save even just one life instead of ignoring the problem because of some lame excuse like, “My voice doesn’t matter.” All of our voices matter, and together, our voices could be indestructible. Any change toward stricter gun control in this day and age, at this peak of violence and bloodshed, can only push progress and help not hinder.
I encourage you to write your hearts out. Write letters to your local congressmen, to your mayors, to your policy makers, to everyone and anyone that will listen, and even the people who won’t. Sign every petition you come across. As long as you stay safe, and obey the law, take it outside and protest on the streets. Write articles, tweet about it, post on Tumblr, do whatever you can possibly do to make your voices be heard. It is time that we as a community, we as a nation, take the next step together. These aren’t just any voices asking for peace anymore; these are the voices of people who do not want to see any more bloodshed, and these are the voices of people who want the right to be who they truly are openly and safely, without the fear of losing their lives for existing.
*If you wanted to skip the gun-talk, you’re welcome to pick back up here.* While Orlando brings up many debates about gun control, restrictions, and violence, I want to make sure that it is not the only thing brought up.
What happened in Orlando was a hate crime. It was a disgusting, homophobic, and violent hate crime. One man saw two men kissing in front of his family, and instead of attempting to understand the differences that strengthen this country, and allow it to be as diverse as it is, he chose to make a decision that he did not have the right to, and destroy the lives of almost a hundred individuals in Pulse Nightclub during the early hours of June 12, 2016.
If you leave this article with anything, leave with this: do not dare forget these victims. Do not erase this mass murder from your minds. Just as you won’t forget those innocent children from Sandy Hook, do not delete the victims from Pulse either. Read the City of Orlando’s list of names and Buzzfeed list of bios. Remember their faces. Spread their stories, not the shooter’s.
If you would like more information about how you can help Orlando directly during this difficult time, you can look here for a list of ways to lend a hand. You can also donate to this GoFundMe on behalf of the Pulse victims. If lending a hand is simply not an option for you at the moment, take a look at the list of candlelight vigils happening in honor of the victims and their families across the country. According to Bustle, the city of Orlando is asking that people located in Orlando refrain from holding vigils as not to deplete the city’s resources.