That’s what I hear on the Facebook chatter today. Same as I heard one year ago today. The day of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The day an apparently homophobic gun man entered the popular Pulse night club and gay bar in Orlando with an assault rifle, a hand gun and explosives, and ended the lives of 49 innocents.
I was sitting in church when I saw the breaking news pop up on my phone. My guts clenched as I thought about those poor victims and the families and friends who were grieving. As I thought about all those moms and dads who didn’t yet know if their child was alive or dead. As I thought about my son laying on that bloody floor.
One year ago today, I was still coming to grips with the homosexuality of my son. In June of 2016, I had known my son was gay for a year and a half or so, but being born and raised a conservative Christian, it took me that long to start to truly breath again. And sitting in that church, surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters, I was silent. And alone. We had only just told our immediate family, and were afraid of the reactions of our church community. This was a test of sorts. An unfair one, perhaps, but a test nonetheless. The same test I was giving to my world of Facebook friends: What would your reaction be?
I had watched and participated with hundreds of other social media users, changing our profile pictures to be ghosted with the faint colors of the French flag in a show of unity and sympathy for the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015. I had read countless posts of grief and anger at the senseless attacks. Memories shared of times in Paris. In times of attack, the human race manages to lay aside their differences for a short time period and unify. Would the nature of the victims in Orlando change that?
I watched to see.
You, Christian, you were being watched. You ARE being watched. Daily. Not just by me, but by the world, by other Christians. You are being watched and judged. Yes judged. Are you a REAL Christian, or just the kind that talks the talk? Do you truly follow the greatest commands to love God and love others? Or is that just talk?
I watched that day, as I watched today. I saw nothing.
No one I knew was ugly about it. I read, horrified, that people were posting that the attack on Pulse was God’s judgement on homosexuals; that they deserved to die for their behaviors. I was relieved that none of my social circle would say such hate-filled words. Then I realized, no one was saying anything at all. Not even those who always seem to inappropriately use situations like the Pulse massacre to make a point about gun violence. It seemed to be a non-issue. Like nothing had happened. That was somehow worse to me — the murder of nearly 50 people wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar. Even today, I saw nothing on my news feed about remembering the victims of Pulse. Nothing about senseless violence.
And then I remembered how I reacted a year ago. I did express my grief and outrage at the loss. But when I added the Pulse rainbow frame to my profile picture, I stopped short of clicking the save button. I just couldn’t do it. I was afraid everyone would think, would know, I was an ally. Would judge me just for that. I wasn’t ready yet to associate myself with the LGBT community. I’m shamed by that.
By my silence.
The deeper and more involved I get with this world, the more I see them for who they are: people who are born different from the majority of the world, and are fiercely persecuted because of it. People who are ridiculed and beat up and belittled from early days. That’s not just a Mom’s perspective — watch the 2016 film “Moonlight” (you know, the one that ACTUALLY won the Academy Award for Best Picture), a story about three stages in the life of the main character, a gay black man, that explores the difficulties he faces with his own sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he receives as a result of it. LGBT people are the most brave and patient people I know.
The year I was born, 1969, was the year of the Stonewall Inn Riots, which was considered the beginning of the gay civil rights movement. A few years later, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. “Homosexual activity” was illegal in our many states of our country until 2003. Gays have had to fight their way into the military (2010), into government jobs (1995), into marriage (2015). They lived and died through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s, in which hundreds of thousands of people died and most of the country ignored or cheered it, claiming it was God’s wrath. I wasn’t just reading in a history book about separate drinking fountains or bus seats. I was LIVING it.
I paid some attention to the news, and knew some of the gay rights issues. But I was living my own life, and the “gay stuff” just didn’t pertain to me. Until it did.
Until I imagined my own son not being able to hold the job he wanted because he was gay. Until I thought about him not getting to marry the man of his dreams. Until I realized that had he been born in the generation before mine, he could have been arrested. Committed to a mental institution. Beat up by anyone with no legal consequences. It wasn’t until 2009 that the definition of hate crimes was expanded to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identify and disabilities. And you know what prompted that change? The death of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a 22-year-old gay college student in Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, and left to die, which he did six days later. In 1998, the year my own son was born.
I didn’t even know it had happened.
This month is Pride month, and at parades all over the country, all over the world, the LGBT community is loud and proud. I’m sure there will be a lot of too-short shirts, too-tight shorts, and too much glitter. So what. This group of precious people have earned the right to be loud and proud. I’m honored and excited to be participating in my first Pride events this year. I’ll be offering Free Mom Hugs at the table during the OKC Pride Festival, and will be walking the Free Mom Hugs banner in the parade, hugging everyone I can and telling them all they are loved and not alone.
I’m done being silent.