Thank You from a Gay Guy

This week has been rough for those of us in the LGBTQ community.

First, the horrific murders in Orlando hit like a ton of bricks on Sunday morning. Many of us - including my husband and I - were out at gay clubs on Saturday night. The killer could just as easily have targeted us if he had lived in our city. We were immensely saddened by the loss of our brothers and sisters who did not survive the night.

But the hurt did not end there. After Sunday, our lives were thrust back into the political arena. The media have been throwing and kicking our LGBTQ identities around like a football. The vitriol spewing from our enemies is hurtful, salt to the wound. So-called Christian leaders say that the killer was sent by God and that we "sinners" deserve it. Tweets of "thoughts and prayers" were sent out by hypocritical politicians who have previously participated in creating an atmosphere of hate. Many want to pit us against Muslims and breed more hate.

This ugly side of America is loud, distracting, and needy. I read and watched, swallowed up in frenzied news cycles. I became frustrated and furious. Soon, I was exhausted.

A welcome break arrived on Tuesday, our weekly bowling night. My husband and I were happy to see the friendly faces of our bowling league. [I use the term 'bowling league' loosely - there are only six of us, and we are terrible bowlers. But bowling is a fun excuse to have some drinks and laughs, and to enjoy being together once a week.] Our conversation quickly turned to Orlando. We began sharing our feelings and experiences. My husband, always the one to lighten a situation, began cracking jokes. I reprimanded him for being irreverent at an inappropriate time.

But then one of my friends reprimanded me: "We need to laugh. We've been through so much these past few days."

I had been so caught up in the horrible news and disgusting political responses that I forgot that I was not alone in my grief. And I neglected to see that, in this time of difficulty, I have my husband to lift me up and I have my friends to support me.

As a result, I am changing my focus. I am taking stock of that for which I am thankful:

  • I am thankful for my husband, who reminds me that being 'in my head' all the time is not healthy. My serious nature makes me prone to drowning in the negative, hyped-up atmosphere that the media creates.

  • I am thankful for my friends who are my support system and who love me enough to wake me up when I need it.
  • I am thankful for our friends Jon and Janet who immediately sent a thoughtful email of support when they heard the news from Orlando. Although the tragedy was difficult for all Americans, they intuitively knew that it must be more difficult for those of us in the LGBTQ community. They titled the message "Solidarity." This is a reminder of true friendship.
  • I am thankful to my student Jordan for proving that the next generation is not lazy and complacent. On Sunday morning, Jordan made a makeshift sign honoring the victims and he prominently displayed it as he marched in the Philadelphia Pride parade that afternoon. He spoke eloquently on the news when interviewed about his sign. A few days later, he began plans for a vigil on campus. Jordan's energized activism is inspiring.
  • I am thankful to members of my family for their visible signs of support of the LGBTQ community. My sister-in-law changed her Facebook profile picture to add a "We Are Orlando" banner and rainbow flag. My nephew, who lives less than a mile from the tragedy in Orlando, sought out multiple ways to help in the days following the tragedy. He was outraged when he discovered that he could donate blood but gay men could not. He is a good man and I am proud of him.
  • I am thankful to the president of the college where I work for quickly and thoughtfully writing an official message to our campus community and for including these words: "We recognize this may be a particularly difficult time for members of the Ursinus LGBTQ community, and we offer our steadfast support to you, now and always." I am comforted knowing I work in a supportive environment.
  • I am thankful to Anderson Cooper for reading the names and descriptions of each of the victims on air. This was emotional for Mr. Cooper, but his slow, careful, empathetic tribute reminds us that the media is not always about sensationalism or ratings. There are human hearts beating on the other side of the airwaves.
  • I am thankful to the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, for his heartfelt speech at a vigil in Salt Lake City this week. His moving words remind us that some politicians, and some Republicans, can change and are motivated to help. Watch it -- it is amazing:
  • I am thankful (and I can't believe I am writing this) to Chick-fil-A. The restaurant chain, perceived as opposed to the LGBTQ community because of their corporate support for anti-gay organizations, fed workers in Florida on Sunday when they are typically closed. At the Chick-fil-A near my home, their flag was at half-mast. This week, they shared genuine Christian values.
  • I am thankful to the many people of London who turned out for a massive vigil. We Americans tend to be brash and selfish. Despite that, we still have support and love outside our borders. [And the spontaneous vogue dancing was awesome.]
  • And, although, it might sound trite, I am thankful to my dogs and cats for providing comfort. Animals send pure love. Unlike crazy humans, they do not discriminate. They see no difference between gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, Mexican, Syrian, old, young, able-bodied, differently-abled, wealthy, poor, etc. They treat everyone equally. My pets teach valuable lessons about equality and inclusion, if only I take notice.
  • We need to change the narrative of hate, conflict, and polarization that is being shaped by politicians, religious zealots, and the media. There is much good out there and we must not lose sight of it amidst all that ugly noise. We must shift our own perspectives and approaches in order to remain focused and positive during this difficult time.