A Time For Solidarity - And Action

by Margaret Huang, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA

It's been a couple of days since the horrific shooting in Orlando, and it's still impossible for any of us to fully comprehend the magnitude of what happened.

Forty-nine people - many of them LGBT people and people of color - were killed in a place where they came to find community and joy. Scores of others were injured. Dozens were held captive for hours, their lives forever changed.

As a mom, I can't stop thinking about Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, who was at the Pulse nightclub dancing with her son, Isaiah, when the shooting started. She did what most of us hope we would have done, too - she put her body between the shooter and her son. She saved her son's life, but she died.

And I can't stop thinking about Juan Ramon Guerrero, a 22-year-old who had just come out to his family last year. He was afraid they would reject him, but they embraced both him and his boyfriend, who died with him on Sunday morning.

All of the 49 people who were killed had a future that was taken from them. The entire world is standing in solidarity with them this week. We owe it to them to mourn their deaths, honor their lives, and take action in their names.

It is not enough - not nearly enough - to keep people in our thoughts. We have to back our thoughts up with actions to protect people from violence.

All people should be able to live safely and without fear of violence, and no one should face discrimination or violence because of who they are. Our elected officials should respond to this tragedy by protecting human rights.

Gun violence is a human rights crisis in this country. The entire discussion about people's rights when it comes to guns has been focused on people's ability to possess guns. It's long past time for a conversation about the rights of all people to live in safety and security - rights that gun violence threatens daily in this country.

We also need to ensure that local, state, and federal laws protect people from hate crimes and discrimination based on who they are. The shooting in Orlando is a harsh reminder that, for all the progress we've made toward LGBT equality in the U.S., we still have much to do.

Some public officials are already drawing exactly the wrong lessons from Orlando - trying to use this horrific crime to fuel more hatred, this time directed at immigrants and Muslims. Far too often, this country has responded to tragedy with fear, bigotry, and scapegoating, and we can't let that happen again.

In the short-term, we all need to express our solidarity with the victims, survivors and their families while calling on public officials to take action. That's just a start. In the months ahead, Amnesty International USA will redouble our efforts, working hand-in-hand with local and national organizations, to address the human rights crisis of gun violence in the U.S. while demanding that all people be protected from violence and discrimination.

That's what this moment calls for - protecting everyone's human rights - and we can't settle for less.