“Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old.”
It was one year ago when I first heard that name. My sister and I stood outside of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, as the names of the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting were read aloud—one by one.
I didn’t know Akyra. All I knew was her name. And that she was my “little” sister’s age.
I squeezed my sister’s hand so tightly, wishing with every fiber in my being that my grip could be enough to protect her from something so heinous. As the names continued to be announced, I felt weak and light headed—the victims could have been my sister and me.
The horrific massacre began to sink in and it hit devastatingly close to home.
Like myself, the 49 victims were mostly Latinx men in their twenties. Like myself, the 49 victims were mostly gay men who sometimes enjoyed dancing the night away at a gay nightclub with friends. Like myself, my 49 LGBTQ brothers and sisters probably shared the view that gay nightclubs like Pulse represented a safe space where people like us could be ourselves authentically. And like myself, they never imagined something like this could happen to them.
But it did happen. And it happened in the form of the deadliest hate crime in our nation’s history. For those of us at the intersection of these communities—if you were queer and/or a person of color—it was a sobering wake-up call. In spite of reaching many milestones in our struggle to create a more just, more inclusive, and more equal nation, for many of us, our lives never felt more threatened simply for being ourselves.
We shared in this plight. Together, we overcame this difficult time with support from our allies because we understood that our oppression was intersectional. We understood that we were stronger together.
In the middle of a contentious election, this was a test of character.
Many politicians took to Twitter to announce their “thoughts and prayers are with Orlando.” Yet, they refused to acknowledge this as a hate crime, opting instead to capitalize on the pain and the agony of our community by calling this a terrorist attack. The media further propelled this narrative.
Donald Trump took it a step further, blaming Hillary Clinton for the incident while simultaneously trying to pit the LGBTQ community against Muslims, or as he referred to them in a tweet: “people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
But amid the mixed feelings of fear, anger, and grief that I and many other LGBTQ people shared, Hillary Clinton had a unifying message of togetherness for LGBTQ and all Americans:
Another act of terrorism in a place no one expected. A madman filled with hate, with guns in his hands, and just a horrible sense of vengeance and vindictiveness in his heart, apparently consumed by rage against LGBT Americans, and by extension, the openness and diversity that defines our American way of life.
Her message was the catalyst that turned my fear, my anger, and my grief into a purpose: To do everything in my power to elect Secretary Hillary Clinton as our next president. Together, we inspired 66 million Americans to vote for a platform that was grounded on justice, inclusion, and equality.
That platform seems less and less tangible with a new administration that poses a threat to disenfranchised communities. But the memory of the 49 victims we lost must embolden us to continue the fight for justice, inclusion, and equality. It would be dangerous to ignore the pervasive culture of violence and deep-rooted bigotry towards our most vulnerable and disenfranchised communities. Above all, it would be a disservice to the human lives we lost.
This Pride Month, I call on everyone to make a pledge to Akyra and our 48 beautiful queer brothers and sisters to never forget and to never stop fighting for equality. Showing your support at a march is a great way to show solidarity, but it shouldn’t stop there. If you’re an ally, get to know the stories behind the LGBTQ people who are present in your everyday life—your coworker, your neighbor. And if you’re queer—and have the privilege to do so—be fearless. Tell your story whenever possible.
I’ve never underestimated the power of visibility and I believe it’s the only way that we can humanize the acronym and rainbow flag that represents us in ways that can change hearts and minds. My “little” sister has become one of my fiercest advocates. Together, we’re doing our part to help change hearts and minds.