Two days. Forty-eight hours. Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty minutes. One hundred and seventy two thousand, eight hundred seconds. That's how long it's been since a shooter entered Pulse in Orlando and opened fire, killing forty-nine and wounding almost fifty others.
If anyone needs proof that being LGBT in America is dangerous, what happened early Sunday morning is all the evidence you could need. Add to the fact that it was Pulse's "Latin Night" and many attendees were Latinx individuals, and there's yet another layer of danger added on. Gay bars, for all intents and purposes, are sanctuaries. People can be themselves without fear of retribution or violence. There is no expectation of discovery or explanation. Those spaces are oases for many people who have nowhere else they can go where they feel welcome.
That space was invaded by a man who, the latest stories claim, was no stranger to Pulse. With an AK-15, he entered the bar after last call and gunned down dozens of people in cold blood. A community, a city, and then a nation, were shattered.
In a post-marriage equality America, many ask "What is left to change?" Bank of America sponsors pride parades. The campaign manager of the presumptive Democratic nominee is an openly gay man. Our President has celebrated and affirmed the dignity of LGBT Americans in multiple speeches, including at the commencement of the Air Force Academy. Straight allies come to pride, drink beer with us, paint their faces with rainbows. What is left? What haven't we accomplished?
Sunday morning I could not shake the mantra running through my head on a loop. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is safe. I felt the same tightness in my chest as I did one time when I was walking with an ex back from the university library and a group of girls stopped us. Unlike that time, when the knot went away after they gushed over how cute we were together, the tension remained. It threatened to grow into a steel casing around my heart, choking off my supply of compassion in an attempt to save myself.
I know it sounds selfish. I know there are plenty of people, many of whom are of color, who will read this and go "You expect me to empathize with this?" If you are black in this country, I imagine that tightness seeps into your veins and battles with your mind for control. If you look at someone the "wrong" way, or say the "wrong" thing, you are in danger. And perhaps my privilege has blinded me to the fact that not only am I truly not as safe as I believed myself to be, but I am much safer than others I know.
Shame. Guilt, over what I just described. Anger. Frustration. Betrayal, when I watched commentators and reporters refuse to describe the systematic execution of LGBT people in an LGBT space as a crime motivated by hatred for LGBT people. Exhaustion. Fear. Sorrow. All of these permeated each cell in my body at once, threatening to push me so far I would burst.
Pride. Seeing groups around the country band together in solidarity, donating blood en masse, marching with straight backs and high heads in parades melted some of that tightness away. Seeing Muslims defend their LGBT brothers and sisters and the LGBT community defend their Muslim brothers and sisters reminded me that we are in this fight together. Where there is injustice and equity for one, there is no freedom for any. Our struggles for recognition and rights are intertwined to the point that it is impossible to separate them. Seeing LGBT reporters hold their colleagues accountable in England and expressing grief on CNN reminded me that we are in this together.
What happens now? We grieve. We mourn those we lost, whose lives will never reach their full potential. We begin to heal. We turn inwards, to ourselves, and outwards to our allies and supporters to start the process of memorializing. But it needs to be done with purpose. We must act.
Our time on Earth is short. There are only so many days, hours, minutes, and seconds we have to do something with our lives. We all have our talents, and our passions. Asking for gun control, fighting Islamophobia, creating more safe spaces for LGBT citizens, and myriad other solutions are all possible. But we can love, too. It has to start with love. The ability to support and care for those in need is what makes us special. And the consequences of being denied that love are all too real for many of us in the LGBT community. It's all too important that we begin and end this conversation with open hearts and open arms, never giving into fear or hatred.
Love is what happens now.