I woke late on Sunday, June 12, 2016. I had been out dancing with friends the night before and when I opened my eyes, I found many more phone notifications than usual. In the moments that followed, I skimmed headlines and texts; I tried to process quickly. First, intellectual remorse set in. I couldn't think of any personal acquaintances that might have been at Pulse the night before, but I was sad. I sighed heavily, rolled onto my back, and tried to conceptualize the idea that reports at the time cited 50 dead and 50 more in the hospital with gunshot wounds. The sheer number was difficult to comprehend.
Context. Context set me sobbing in my bed. I tried to shower and clean myself, but context brought red eyes and wet cheeks to my face as I looked in the mirror. Context made me an hour late to the park where I was supposed to be meeting friends for Pride festivities. Context is what made me realize that the LGBTQ party I had been at the night before probably only had about 100 people in attendance. If the tragedy had happened there, I and all of my friends would have been shot, if not dead. Context is what crippled me as I thought about the dozens of gay clubs in cities I have visited around the world -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, New York. I've visited them all. I have friends in them all on any given night -- people I have laughed with, touched, kissed, hugged, loved.
I've shed more tears for this tragedy in the few days that have followed. I've attended vigils and shared my love with my friends and family. As I continue to heal, my purpose in writing this is to help explain the sense of community felt by the LGBTQ community and the reason why this hits so close to home for so many.
Members of the LGBTQ community earn their place not just by birth, not just by name. For most, it is a badge of Pride because of the adversity we face while in the pursuit of happiness. For me, it was nearly two decades of lying to everyone, including myself, about who I was. It was bullying. It was rejection. And I am not alone in this. When, finally, we find solace amongst those with a shared experience and identity, it is a sort of rebirth -- an experience that gives us permission to start life anew and to define ourselves in whatever way we please, knowing that we will have the love and support of the people around us. We find a new family -- not necessarily to replace the one we already have, but to augment it in a unique way.
For any such group, there are physical locations used to express this sense of community -- of belonging. To the LGBTQ community, many of these places are bars -- dark spaces hidden from the public eye where dance, revelry, and self-expression flourish. We frequent these places, we meet new people, and we make connections that last a lifetime. This is our home and the attack on June 12th took a part of that from all of us.
I leave you with a thought that has haunted me the past few day, a thought that might make this pain more immediately relatable for those outside the LGBTQ family. Look around you now or later today. How many people do you see in your office, your train car, or the store. How many of them are there? 50? 100? Do you know them? Are they strangers? Think of their families, their loved ones. Feel that?
Nate is the Founder and Executive Director of Coming Out, a non-profit, open-source library of coming out stories organized in a way that makes it easy for anyone to find a story they can relate to.