I woke up Sunday morning and rolled over to look at Stacy, like I have been doing every morning for so many years and plan to keep doing every morning for the rest of my life. She was reading the news. She’s always reading the news when I wake up. I could tell by the huge red font on her laptop screen that something bad had happened, and when she noticed I was awake, she tilted her computer away from me.
“What happened?” I asked.
She kissed my forehead and said, “Your fever is back.”
“But what happened?” I asked again.
She didn’t answer right away. She rested her cool hand on my hot cheek. And then she told me 20 people had been killed in a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. That’s all she knew, that’s all anyone knew. 20 dead gay and trans people who’d been out dancing, celebrating Pride.
Stacy was right that my fever was back. I’d been fighting a cold for a week and I’d clearly lost the battle. She kissed me again and got up and got dressed and went out for supplies. She knew what I needed without me having to ask. She’s nursed my terrible immune system through plenty of colds and flus and fevers. Lemon-lime Gatorade only. When I woke up again, 50 gay and trans people had been pronounced dead.
Stacy and I spent the majority of our first date at a gay bar in New York City, out until 4:00 a.m. talking about our hopes and dreams and fears and favorite TV. And sports. The Miami Dolphins. Skins, mostly. Naomi and Emily. This new thing called Pretty Little Liars. We’d been shooed away from a press event by the NYPD and we found ourselves in the back of a cab together, hardly knowing each other, feeling like maybe we should find out more, like maybe this was our one chance. So we went a gay bar to sit in a corner and talk quietly, while people decked out in rainbows and glitter danced around us, all night long. Neither of us are loud places people; neither of us like crowds. Something drew us to that bar that night, though. Something about the safety of being with our brothers and sisters, our people, while this fragile, hopeful, unspoken thing buzzed between us.
The Orlando narrative was always going to take the form of Islamophobia, as soon as it was clear Omar Mateen wasn’t white. It was always going to take the form of hundreds of politicians erasing “LGBT” from the conversation to exploit our pain. Donald Trump was always going to find a way to congratulate himself for it, to double down on his racism and xenophobia, to appeal to fear to fear to fear, always to fear. (The irony of convincing straight white people they’re the ones at risk when nearly all the victims of the hate crime were gay and trans Black and Latino people.) It was always going to be a chance for the NRA to claim they’re the ones under attack.
But we know the truth: The shooting at Pulse happened because religious conservatives all over the world, and especially here in the United States – where this murderer was born and raised – have been scapegoating gay and trans people for decades, twisting the words of their religious texts to claim authority from gods for persecution and oppression. They have denied us our rights to marriage, to fair employment and housing. They have called us pedophiles and deviants, have taken away our children and separated us from our families. They have called for our execution, and recently. You remember Ted Cruz’s pastor who said LGBT people are “pawns of Satan” and lobbied for our death. That was November, six months ago. They have fought to keep our stories off of TV and out of movies, to have our books banned from libraries, and to boycott the businesses that would dare to treat us with respect.
The shooting at Pulse happened because millions of people have been taught to fear this one thing:
A woman in New York City saw her partner wake up on Sunday morning with a fever, and her instinct in that moment was to shield her partner from horrific news. For three minutes, maybe. Or even just thirty seconds. Not to reach for her partner for comfort. Not to pierce the quiet morning with a howl of rage. A woman in New York City saw her partner wake up on Sunday morning and her impulse was love. Love for another woman. Love.
Stacy brought me my favorite popsicles in order of the way I like to eat them: cherry, then grape, then orange. “Try to at least eat three crackers,” she said.
And that’s why 50 people died.
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