What I Still Don't Understand About Orlando

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 16:  People visit a memorial for those killed at the Pulse nightclub last Saturday night on June 16, 2016
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 16: People visit a memorial for those killed at the Pulse nightclub last Saturday night on June 16, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Omar Mir Seddique Mateen shot the victims in what appears to be an ISIS inspired attack in which 49 people were killed early Sunday and 53 people were wounded. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

"Are you guys OK???"

On July 21, 2012, I woke up to that text from my cousin, Brett. I texted him back that we were fine.

My first thoughts were, "Where? Who?" But not why or what. Because I knew it was a shooting. What else would it be? And the why... there is no answer to that. The only "why" that I need an answer for is why do we allow it to keep happening? WHY?

The theatre that James Eagan Holmes shot up in Aurora, Colorado is twenty minutes from our house. Twenty minutes.

I didn't see a movie in a theater after that for a long time.

"Look if something happens, just don't do anything stupid, okay?" I say to Roy the first time we see a movie after the shooting.

"What do you mean?" Roy asked.

"Just don't try to be a hero. If something ever happens, you just do what you need to get out safely."

"Michael..." he started and gave me that look. I knew the look. "You can't ask me that."

But I was. I wanted to be selfish and it was such a Roy thing to do -- for anyone. Without thinking. And my only thoughts were: It can't happen to you.

But would I act any differently? Probably not. But if Roy promised me that he would just go - escape, I would promise him the same.

"Well I'm not leaving if you don't," I huffed. "Just know that. You stay, I stay. You die, I die."
Because I would die for him, just like I would live for him.

And then the movie started.

***

I grew up in Nebraska, and was openly gay from a very young age back in the nineties. You know before things "got better."

Before I was a teenager I had been threatened, ambushed and beaten in public. In school, I was teased harassed and mercilessly bullied, by both students and a few teachers.

"He's chosen a hard life," Ms. K said to my parents at Parent-Teacher conferences. Last I knew, being gay isn't a choice. Did I choose for people to call me a faggot? Did I choose to be slammed against lockers or book-checked, to have my things stolen or destroyed; to have people put glue in my hair? Did I ask for kids to pull pranks and then say I was the culprit to try and get me expelled? Did I choose to have to switch buses? What about my "hard life" was a choice I made? Because really, it seems that my "hard life" was actually caused by a lot of others making choices based in fear and ignorance and hate. Those are choices I choose not to make.

***

I don't understand. On June 12 this thought played on a loop in my head.

On December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S. And he opened fire. Twenty-eight lives were stolen that day. Twenty of them were children who were only six or seven years old. I wonder what those twenty children would have achieved had they lived.

After we as a country cried, "Never Again!"

We lied.

Since Sandy Hook there have been 998 mass shootings in the United States, as defined by Gun Violence Archive. Three of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the United States, including the shooting in Orlando on June 12, have occurred AFTER Sandy Hook.

I don't understand.

***

I've never understood religious extremists or those who do hateful things in the name of God. I'll admit God and I aren't all that tight in an official capacity. We used to be, until the priest at my church told me being gay was an instant access pass to Hell.

When a Catholic becomes of age (eighth grade) they are supposed to get confirmed. Confirmation is all about the person being old enough to pledge their life to God in the Catholic faith. Why would I want to be a member of an organization that told me my very existence was a sin?
But my parents were insistent and arranged for me to talk with the monsignor at my church. The meeting did not go very well (who would have thought, right?).

"What are some of your concerns with our doctrine," Monsignor started, folding his hands.

"I think there is a lot of contradictory teachings and that the church actively promotes prejudice that I'm not okay with."

"Such as?"

"Well for example, homosexuality. I completely disagree with the church's stance on that."

"Well, what is there to be confused about? Homosexuality is unnatural and not what God would want. Man and woman were created to procreate and that is what the act of love is for nothing else."

"How is it unnatural?"

"Well, you cannot conceive a child through homosexual..."

"Sex," I finished.

He turned red, "Yes, that."

"So for couples who cannot have children, or older couples who have been married for four decades and can no longer procreate; people like that should not express love physically for one another?"

"N-no, that's not what I meant," he began.

"But you said the act of intercourse was only meant for procreation. So straight couples who can no longer procreate shouldn't have sex. By your definition it is the same sin as homosexual sex."
"The act of intercourse between a man and a woman is like this." He took a finger on one hand and put it through the circle that his fingers on the other hand made. "It is natural and works." Then he stuck out a finger on each hand and said, "See this doesn't work."

"Actually," I corrected, "that is not how gay men have sex, it works like this," and I made the same motion he had for the straight couple. "It's just a different hole."

Even though I feel like Catholic leaders are misguided in their viewpoints they don't exactly spread the message, "Shoot 'em up!" But I have met my fair share of Catholics and Christians who truly feel like that is a solution.

"We should just round them all up and put them on an island, and nuke it!"

Do you want to know who said this? Fine, but I'll need to know which time. I've been told this by "believers" (in person) more than fourteen times by eight different people. Did you want the time on the school bus when I was in sixth grade? Ninth grade? In my college dorms? Freshman, sophomore or junior years?

With different religious cult and hate groups, it is hardly a surprise that such hate exists. But it doesn't mean I have to understand it, because I don't. I think I'd be afraid if I did.

***

Before people started talking...

Aug. 1, 1966: University of Texas Tower in Austin, Texas. 14 people killed; 31 wounded.

July 18, 1984: McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, California. 21 people killed; 19 wounded.

April 20, 1999: Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. 15 people killed; 24 wounded.

In the midst of a conversation...

April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. 33 people killed; 17 injured.

Nov. 5, 2009: Fort Hood military base in Fort Hood, Texas. 13 people killed; 30 wounded.

Dec. 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 28 people killed; 2 injured.

What "Never Again" could have prevented...

Sept. 16, 2013: Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. 13 people killed.

Dec. 2, 2015: Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. 16 people killed; 24 injured.

June 12, 2016: Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people killed; 53 injured.

Gun sense is common sense. No one is trying to take away a person's second amendment rights, but those rights should be come with rules to protect people -- as well as limits. No civilian needs to have access to weapons of mass destruction. They don't need machine guns or assault rifles that can kill dozens in seconds. They just don't.

If they're weapons collectors - so what. A nuclear device is a weapon, are we going to permit civilian weapon collectors to have access to those too? Where does it end?

After every mass shooting there is some call to action. People who believe and say, "Enough is enough." So why is this still happening?

We need to ban the types of guns that no one has a legitimate reason to own. This seems to simple to me, but it's not.

Gun reform organizations like Everytown and Moms Demand Action haven't even touched that yet. Why? Because they're fighting for background checks on gun licenses and permits. But shouldn't this be easily obtained? It's not a law already? According to Everytown.org 92% of the public and 82% of gun owners support background checks, so what's the deal? Each time a background check bill is introduced, it's blocked by the NRA.

Because they have the right to make money. But how can money matter more than all the lives touched by gun violence?

Wake up, America! How many more lives need to be sacrificed before we do?

***

I'm so used to hate geared at me that it kind of runs off upon impact. That shouldn't be the reaction I have. Shouldn't being called a faggot still bother me? Deviant? Pervert? Should I feel threatened when some redneck in his truck acts like he is going to run me down?

After Roy and I got engaged we both invited every member of our families, knowing that many would not attend because of their personal objections. My family didn't bother to RSVP back - they ignored it. Others just said they did not plan to attend. Roy's Aunt Jane however chose to let Roy know she was superior and his deviance made her terrified for his soul.

I opened the letter she sent to him. I knew what was in it. Misguided, ignorant hateful garbage in the name of God. I thought, "No big deal." It would be entertaining.

If it had been me, it would have been entertaining. As she wrote about "praying" for him and begging to let her help him repent and save him from eternal damnation I became enraged. How dare she say these things to Roy! I wanted to write some witty apology actually quoting the Bible, which I know quite well. I wanted to write her such a letter saying I was praying for her because she was twisting the words of the Lord for some petty hateful crap.

I wanted to spare Roy the letter but he already knew it arrived. When he got home he read it. It rolled off his back. But I was still angry. I realized it was fine for someone to come at me with a bat, but say an offhanded comment to Roy and I would lose my shit. Love is funny that way.
The rest of Roy's family is great, overall much better than my own. But sometimes there is still that disconnect. Last month when we were visiting, we had dinner with Roy's aunt, uncle and grandmother. His aunt is wonderful: loving, welcoming and I feel very close to her. But she doesn't understand that it's still us against the world. We got married when it wasn't legal. Because screw being legally married, it was a promise we made to each other in front of our loved ones. That was all that mattered.

At dinner she wanted to know why I was voting Democrat, regardless of who won the nomination and my feelings for that person.

"But are you really happy with where our country is headed?" She asked me. (She meant economically.)

There was nowhere to go with this. I would never change her viewpoint and she would never change mine. And quite frankly I didn't want to talk about it because it hit too close to home. For me politics are personal.

"I understand what you're saying," I said, "but the economy or every other issue will always take a backseat to my civil rights. Every GOP candidate makes my life a political issue. Each one has stated they intend to fight the Supreme Court ruling, which was just made last year, stating I had the right to be married. In some places we can't adopt kids. In many places we can be fired for just being gay."

"You can be fired?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"I don't know offhand, but I can send you a list," I said, hoping that would be the end. I didn't want to tell her that I didn't know EVERY state that still allowed this type of discrimination, but I knew that her home state of Florida is one of them; so is Nebraska.

The answer is 28 states. You can be fired for being gay in 28 states. Ironically just two weeks after the visit, Congress voted against passing a non-discrimination amendment protecting LGBT people. All the no's were from Republicans.

I haven't sent her the email because I love her. But she doesn't get it. My life - Roy's life will always come first on every other political issue.

Maybe after Orlando I need to rethink this.

In 45 states, you can openly carry a firearm.

In 37 states, you can buy and use that firearm without a license.

In 32 states, you can buy a gun at a gun show from a "private seller" without a background check.

I don't understand how the rights of gun owners supersede my right to breathe. To go on living.

To not being gunned down for no other reason than being who I am; than living in America.

***

Around 2:00 a.m. on June 12, 2016, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He killed 49 people, and injured 53 others.

But this is just another shooting, right? I mean they're part of our culture in America. What's one more?

Why is this an understandable reaction? "Another" should not be a word we use so casually with such a tragedy. Why do we need gun safety drills instead of severe weather or fire drills? Why are so many people accepting of the use of "another"? I want a day when a mass shooting is novel. It's awful and horrible and so "strange" and unfamiliar.

But in all honesty, this was not just another shooting. It was "special". This attack is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It is the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people. It is the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. Please take a minute... let that sink in.

Now do you find this to be tragic? Upsetting? Are you thinking of the victims and their loved ones? Are you thinking the victims deserved to die?

Because there are quite a few people who do.

"Gays don't deserve to live."

"Good thing... less gays in the world today."

"Homosexuality is condemned by God that's why he let it happen ppl."

"God opened his armory to deal with proud fag America."

"I think the gunman did a good job."

"Gays should be shot for disrespecting the natural order."

"I'm so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people."

"The shooter is my hero."

Never has a mass shooting elicited so much support -- for the shooter.

You think these voices are the few, but they're not. They are many. But these voices are important. They show exactly what it is like to be gay in the world today.

And let's not forget that any one of these people can go out and buy a gun. I mean, what's stopping them?

June is LGBT PRIDE Month. A lot of people wonder why we need to have PRIDE. This is WHY we need PRIDE. This is why we come out. This is why we stand up. Because we cannot live in fear. Because we are who we are and just want what the same rights as everyone else. We love who we love, but it is still love.

This attack -- this is why we keep standing up. We keep fighting and celebrating who we are. Why we don't back down and refuse to stay silent. This is why.

***

Love is the point -- of everything. It is the meaning to life -- to love and be loved. It drives us, keeps us going, whether in a quest to find it or being aware and grateful for all of the love around us. The greatest achievements and contributions to humanity have come from love. Love of others, love of self, love as a passion or calling.

I wonder what would happen if everyone who hated someone decided to love them instead. I think then the NRA would be screwed. No more need for guns at all. Because I do agree that guns don't kill people, people kill people. But wow, do guns make it so much easier to kill a great number of people quickly and effectively.

For now I am taking my love and I am sitting here just not understanding.

I don't understand hating someone so fiercely you want to end their life. Even someone who has wronged you in the vilest ways. But strangers? People just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? People you are judging as sinners, when most religions promote love and acceptance before people twist it to fit their ignorant agendas?

I don't understand the loss. Why it has to keep happening. I don't understand. The hate. The senseless death. Any of it. I don't. My heart is (breaking) with Orlando and the rest of my community as we grieve and seek to understand what cannot be understood.