As I’ve watched the devastating news reports about the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend, and tried as so many others have to understand why this happened, I was struck by a report by CNN’s Anderson Cooper as he shared the deep, personal effect on him as a gay man who has at times in his life found his place in gay bars.
As a fertility specialist I have helped many of my patients have children and build families of their own over the past 26 years. Many of them have been gay men looking to start a family. As marriage has become legal across America I’ve seen the number of gay men wanting to have children rise in recent years. Gay or straight, family means a lot.
While children may not have been an option for many gay men, that hasn’t stopped them from building their own families, they just look a little different from Norman Rockwell’s version. Whether they’ve been rejected by parents or unable to have children, they have built family out of friendships with other gay men and women. Thanksgiving dinner often isn’t a trip home for us, but rather a celebration with friends.
For many gay people, their “family get togethers” have consisted for years of going out for a beer (or a cosmo) at their favorite gay club, a gathering place where they can relax and share their personal stories with people who care about them in an accepting environment. Dancing. Singing. Drinking. Laughing.
These gatherings at gay bars around the world are as important and as meaningful as the traditional Sunday night supper or holiday feast my parents held when I was growing up. Our community’s definition of family may be a little different from the traditional one, but it shares the same meaning, the same significance. Gay bars have been sanctuaries to so many of us and our families for so many years.
The attack on Pulse nightclub wasn’t just a random act, it was a direct target on one of our community centers. It was an attack on our families. The victims, so many of them so young, were just figuring out what their family will look like. The attack was so deliberate, so highly personal. It could have been my family and me.
That’s why this attack has resonated so powerfully within our community.
We are fortunate to live in a country that, while we still have some distance to go, gives us so many freedoms. We are fortunate that our society has made significant changes over the past several decades.
Yet we all felt like it was our family in Pulse that night. We felt it was us. As the faces have flashed across our television screens for the last week, even those of us who didn’t personally know any of the dead or wounded felt like we knew every single one of them. The Orlando massacre was an attack our family, in our living room, which we will never forget.
It’s why so many have shared this simple message across social media: “We Are Orlando.”
That’s why I know the effect that night has had on us – on me – will reverberate for years. We appreciate the great strides that we have made towards greater acceptance and freedoms in our world, but we will all continue our activism to protect our community, our families.