Last Sunday, my roommate and I commiserated over the day's LA Pride festivities. We both noted the unusual atmosphere that hung over the crowded stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard. The hours leading into this year's parade created a sense of fear, anger and sadness. That morning, as I walked up to the staging area, I wondered what the meaning of this pomp and circumstance was. Are we allowed to smile, laugh and express joy? Should we be mourning? Is there a way we can do anything without fear? Are we safe?
49 people were gunned to their deaths at Pulse, a popular, gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in the wee hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. An additional 53 were injured, some critically.
I've grown up in a time where mass shootings are not atypical. I remember reading the heart-wrenching details of Columbine in Time Magazine when I was only 10 years old. I will never forget learning about the tragedies at Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can easily recall the chills that went down my spine when an audience in Aurora died watching a movie I had just myself finished viewing. I received texts of concern from friends and loved ones this past December when nearby San Bernardino felt the hurt behind a trigger.
In the social media age, everyone posts when these incidents strike. I, like so many others, have repeatedly advocated from gun control and engaged in heated debates that have left all parties emotionally and mentally exhausted. Yet here we are. Again. And again.
My first thought as I stirred from sleep to find the news alerts lighting up my phone, I must admit, was that it was *just* a mass shooting. It's America. It's what we do. How awful it is that these realities don't even shock us anymore.
Because of the shooter's religion, the right has made it about something that is easier to vilify than the truth. The pro-gun, hate-and-fear-based culture of America is the actual problem, no matter who committed the act, and this time it directly hit my community. No, I do not live in Orlando, but I am a gay man. The LGBT community has solidarity together.
In the Pride march, people stepped off with deep ties to the event. Many did not know whether or not their friends had made it out alive. Vague conversations connected loosely as people attempted to keep the spirit alive. Rumblings of a similar shooting attempt being foiled in LA rolled through the crowd. As I walked along, as I saw people I knew, some of them barely so, we smiled and said hello. We hugged. We touched each other's hands. We said kind words.
I marched with Hollywood United Methodist Church, one of my constants in Los Angeles' sea of uncertainty. I said "happy pride!" more times than I could count on that steady, purposeful walk. I hugged total strangers. Passing by a small group of protestors, I signed "I love you." I exchanged thousands of glances and saw eyes full of hope and defiance.
There was something genuine about the day that stood in contrast with my other Pride experiences. While the day itself has always been affirming, there was a crystallization of its significance. It was not until my conversation that night with my roommate that I realized just what that significance was: love.
The LGBT community suffered one of the most heinous displays of hate our country has ever witnessed. Many would react with anger, and justifiably so. It was love, though, that swept over LA on that cool, cloudy June morning. Through years of repression, suppression and persecution - from Stonewall to the AIDS crisis to Prop 8, LGBT people have been dealt their fair share of hate. That seething hate turned murderous one night. What we have learned, in all this time, is that the only emotion that over comes hate is love. Love conquers hate.
I am so thankful I was able to see, interact and be with all of the individuals I came upon at LA Pride. I am thankful I was able to feel the indelible, indefinable atmosphere of the parade. I am thankful to be alive to march forward - forward to a time where there's a little less hate and a little more love.