Pulse: The Intersection of Homophobia, Racism And Access To Guns

My heart is heavy for the Pulse nightclub victims and their families. I am sorry for this loss cutting our nation deeper than words can express, and deeply saddened that our immigration laws are preventing some families from even attending their loved one's funerals.

These were our Latino siblings, friends and neighbors. They were LGBT people enjoying life at an iconic place of safety and acceptance for their community. They were the beating heart of American diversity, and of what makes this country great. And they were struck down in horrific violence; intentionally targeted for all of the good that they embodied.

The Orlando shooting was a homophobic and racist attack, perpetrated almost one year to the day after a similar attack targeting another vulnerable community at another place of sanctuary. Part of honoring the nine lives lost to a white supremacist's gun at Emanuel AME Church in 2015 should have been taking steps to ensure a similar event never happened again. We didn't then, and the question we must ask as 49 more souls are laid to rest and 53 remain injured is, will we do it now?

The seeds of hate crimes are sewn long before their victims are harmed, and the sad truth is that some in our society tolerate and even nurture this process. Every anti-LGBT policy proposal -- from North Carolina's H.B. 2 to the recent efforts by Congressional Republicans to undermine LGBT protections -- contributes the demoralization of our fellow citizens. Every right wing talking point smearing Mexican immigrants only serves to further demean an already vulnerable population. It's a not-so-subtle reminder that we have not achieved equality in our society, and that relative safety is a luxury afforded some communities much more than it is to others.

The result is sad, predictable and something we see far too often. Families, schools and places of worship refuse to accept someone for being LGBT. Transgender women of color, uniquely targeted at the intersection of transphobia, racism and sexism, face the constant threat of violence in our streets. 2015 was the deadliest year yet for transgender women, with 21 murders in the U.S. alone. Sadly, we're on track to break that record in 2016, with 14 transgender women killed so far, and we're only half way through the year. Before the Pulse shooting took place, the LGBT community already made up the highest percentage of hate crime victims. It's not enough for lawmakers to hold moments of silence for the vulnerable people they've helped to victimize. In fact, less than two weeks after Orlando, many of the same Republicans who bowed their heads in silence are now planning a hearing on legislation that would enshrine in law a business's right to discriminate against LGBT employees. The responsibility of leadership demands an end to these harmful political ploys that in no uncertain ways helps place a target on innocent backs.

Elevating our national discourse is a crucial first step, but that alone is not enough. The fact remains that in Orlando, someone with the intent to kill on a horrific scale was able to get his hands on a gun designed to do just that. We must find the political will to end this scourge, once and for all. That starts by recognizing that the perpetrators of gun violence benefit from our lax gun laws. The first accomplice to a mass murderer is a society that allows him to buy a gun, no questions asked. That is why it is vital for Congress to reauthorize the assault weapons ban. Since the law expired in 2004, assault weapons have become the one common factor connecting Orlando to Newtown and Aurora to San Bernardino. The motives vary as widely as the locations, but the weapons are notably the same.

As for the motives of this most recent mass murderer, his claimed allegiance to ISIS, al Queda and Hezbollah -- three terrorist groups at war with one another -- is a testament to just how confused and incoherent his views were. But his words also created an opening for those who would rather scapegoat Islam than deal with the difficult changes we so desperately need. It falls to decent people in every corner of our country to ensure that never happens. We cannot ignore the policies being pushed by elected officials that feed into the acceptance of discrimination in our society. We cannot sit by and allow another vulnerable community to be targeted as a result of one person's horrific actions, and we cannot allow the voices of division to persevere.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Gone too soon, but never forgotten:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old