Like all members of the LGBT community, I awoke a week ago Sunday stunned at the news from Orlando. And as I tried to piece my emotions together, I realized I was feeling something I hadn't felt since the morning that the Challenger exploded, way back in 1986: slapped in the face by a reality that had always been a possibility but that I had stopped worrying about because everything was going so well. Just as I had on that horrific day my first reaction was stunned catatonia: I sat staring at news stories, trying to fathom the immensity of it, trying to understand, as if one can understand horror and hatred.
It had been just the previous Thursday when I stood scant feet from President Obama as he delivered his eighth LGBT Pride Reception address, a beautiful few hours in the White House spent meeting LGBT folks from all over who were there to do what I was there to do: celebrate the incredible gains that we've made under this administration. The conversations there were full of hope and promise and not whether but when. Could that have been just that Thursday? Two days before the universe collapsed?
In 1986, I must have watched that endless loop of the shuttle exploding a hundred times. There was a teacher on board. A teacher like me from New Hampshire, where I grew up. It was personal. It was too much to handle. It was too much to believe.
It was a different world.
Sunday, I didn't need video to confirm the stories. The scene has become sickeningly familiar to us all. And yes, it's still very personal. I'm not young-obviously, if I remember the Challenger-and I am not Latina, but in a different life I might have been someone who went to a club like Pulse. I'm transgender. I like enjoying life. And 100+ young LGBT people who had gone to do just that were mowed down because...why? The shooter hated them? He was a self-loathing closeted gay man? He was a secretly radicalized Muslim who really hated the fact that he was gay and somehow blamed all LGBT people for it? What?
Catatonia slowly turned to deep sadness. I read stories about the victims: two men who were to be married who will now instead be buried; a soldier who had challenged the insane DADT rule; a young nurse who will never be able to fulfill her promise; students, dancers, single parents, journalists, salespeople, beauticians, Disney World employees, out of towners just there for fun... so hard to read. So many lives, so senseless. So horrible.
And then deep sadness morphed to plain old anger. It started when I began thinking about how the news was reporting this tragedy. The more they didn't say "LGBT," the angrier I grew. The more they latched onto the "radical Islam" angle and called it "terrorism" instead of a hate crime, the more my anger ignited. The more I saw people sharing sympathetic memes and rainbow ribbons on facebook-people whom I know to be NRA supporters and therefore complicit in the fact that this guy could legally purchase a military-grade weapon at a shopping plaza gun store without even any needed background check-the more my anger started becoming fury. The more I started hearing that this was about Islamic hatred and we needed to get rid of the Muslims, as if it were not the Christian right in THIS country that fosters the environment that gave this shooter the notion that LGBT people are somehow lesser and are valid as targets and that if he, in fact, is one, he should hate himself, the more that fury became livid.
The President said-as he has said so many times now that he might as well play a recording- that we need to decide what kind of country we are. That's the problem: we have decided. We are a country that doesn't care if gunmen, every couple of months or so, blow away large groups of businesspeople, gay people, medical people, moviegoers, or even school children, because we need to hold on to our precious right to own what are, in civilian terms, weapons of mass destruction. That is who we are. Or anyway, that is who the cowards who populate Congress are, as they showed us once again on Monday night, voting down two easy-to-take gun laws even though they had about 90% support from the populace. And I am utterly enraged about it.
Because I thought we were finally safe, you know? I thought that all of the asinine laws that the GOP keeps passing were the last, worst gasps of a dying breed of dinosaur passing out of existence. I had forgotten that within all of the ugliness that the right espouses also lies the real potential for actual violence. Until now.
In 1986, no one was even watching the launch of the Challenger. Such launches had become so easy and routine that, as I said, they were sending civilians up. Only the brand new 24-hour CNN, with nothing else to fill its time, covered the launch live. And only they had the video that immediately (in 2016 parlance) went viral. It was a huge event not only because of its inherent newsworthiness, but because of its shattering of a kind of innocence: suddenly we were all reminded, so violently, of what some part of us of course already knew: the dangers inherent to space travel.
The Pulse atrocity has reminded us, so violently, of the dangers inherent to being LGBT in this country. Where we had started to become a bit complacent -- overconfident after so many victories, maybe? -- now we once more need to look over our shoulders. Where two gay men kissing in the street was starting to feel (as it should) just fine, now, thanks to this shooter, it will come with the shadow of what if there's someone like that guy watching? Where many of us gather together, there will always be slight trepidation. Because that is the kind of country America is.
And that really pisses me off.