I could not find the words to describe my pain and outrage when I heard about the Orlando massacre. As a straight white Christian who holds to a traditional sexual ethic, any response I give will always be from a distance, and it could even aggravate the wounds of LGBTQ people, who have experienced much hatred and vitriol of people in my community. That’s why I asked my friend and former student Joe Tobias, a gay man, to offer his own response (unedited) here on my blog. (I do plan on writing my own response after I talk to my LGBTQ friends about how to go about it.)
As I sat at my desk on Monday morning, I found myself realizing that I had no idea a shooting in a place I had never heard of could have such a profound emotional effect on me. I was not alone either, social media was full of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) persons all expressing deep emotions in the wake of the massacre of 50 lives from within our family.
For a community that has long been subjected to marginalization and violence, gay clubs like Pulse have served as a refuge for our community. They are safe spaces where we can gather as to share our common bond, and shed the anxieties unique to living as a sexual minority. To have such violence and hatred invade one of our sacred spaces has deeply affected us in ways that are hard to describe in few words.
So many of us have been left feeling utter despair that such an act has taken place. We feel isolated and silenced by the way some have tried to minimize or ignore that this violent act targeted our community. We are afraid because we know that any one of us, or our loved ones, could have been one of the victims of these murders. We are angry at the people and systems who have long made us feel worthless, who have made us feel broken and drove many of our numbers to self-harm and self-loathing. This has once again opened old and deep wounds, and reminded us that the risk of violence is ever present.
Many Christians may find themselves wondering how they can best show love and compassion to our community. While I am just one voice among many, I offer my thoughts. First, know that for many of us, our experiences within churches and Christian organizations have left us deeply wounded. We were made to feel shame, inadequate, and in many cases unlovable even by God. As a result many of us carry a deep distrust of Christians, and are hesitant to again open ourselves up and risk being hurt. In some cases, your compassion may not even be welcome, but instead will be met with anger. Be patient, listen, and earn our trust.
Many have expressed this sentiment and I repeat it here: do not preface or add footnotes to your compassion and condolences. It is belittling and disingenuous when an attempt to console comes with a disclaimer about disagreeing with same sex marriage, or gay weddings – now is not the time for these discussions. What the LGBTQ community needs to hear and see unequivocally is that they are loved. We need to hear, as Bishop Gregory Palmer of the United Methodist Church put it “Everyone here is a child of God. Hard stop. Period. End of discussion.” No small print or disclaimers, tell us and show us that we are children of God and deeply loved.
Take time to listen to us and uplift our voices. Understand the history of violence against our community and how it contributes to our experiences today. Many of us are feeling silenced and pushed aside. Do not try to minimize or ignore that this massacre targeted the LGBTQ community, and that this particular attack was against a group that was not only a sexual minority by also a racial minority. Lessening either aspect of these murders robs those people of their value. Speak out against any and all hateful speech and actions, and those who try and claim this was not a hate crime.
My final challenge is find out where and when your local Pride Festival will be held this year and go. Don’t have an agenda, just go and show that you care, that you are with us and you will not tolerate violence and injustice. While often times Pride has been characterized as merely a large party, Pride exists as an act of defiance against acts of violence such as the massacre at Pulse. We gather as a community to declare our solidarity and worth in the face of opposition and celebrate our diversity.
Our community we will be watching and listening to how churches and individual Christians respond these next few weeks. I truly believe these responses will have lasting effects on how our community views the church for years to come.