Surviving Orlando

We come together today from many places and many ways of life
Amid our many differences, we join as one
We know that there is strength in our connection
We know that there is comfort in our togetherness
We know that there is hope in our diverse unity
May the flame we kindle today enable us to see beyond disagreement and strife
Beyond anger and fear
Beyond different belief and understandings
May we learn to see the beauty in each and every person
And free our love to work in the world


Remembering

49 people killed in a shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At least 53 wounded. Each one was a human being with promise and dreams and joys and frustrations and sorrows. They were loved by families and friends and partners. And they are gone.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Enrique L Rios, Jr, 25 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Juan P Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Jean C Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Angel L Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Geraldo A Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old


Readings

Do it anyway, by Kent Keith (adapted)

People can be unreasonable, irrational and self-centred.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, some may accuse you of ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you may win unfaithful friends or genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your [self.]  It was never between you and them anyway.

A Speech by Harvey Milk (adapted)

I can't forget the looks on faces of people who've lost hope. Be they gay, be they seniors, be they blacks looking for an almost-impossible job, be they Latinos trying to explain their problems and aspirations in a tongue that's foreign to them. I personally will never forget that people are more important than buildings. I use the word "I" because I'm proud. I stand here tonight in front of my gay sisters, brothers and friends because I'm proud of you. I think it's time that we have many legislators who are gay and proud of that fact and do not have to remain in the closet. I think that a gay person, up-front, will not walk away from a responsibility and be afraid of being tossed out of office….In, San Francisco, three days before Gay Pride Day, a person was killed just because he was gay. And that night, I walked among the sad and the frustrated at City Hall in San Francisco and later that night as they lit candles on Castro Street and stood in silence, reaching out for some symbolic thing that would give them hope. These were strong people, whose faces I knew from the shop, the streets, meetings and people who I never saw before but I knew. They were strong, but even they needed hope.

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

So if there is a message I have to give, it is that I've found one overriding thing about my personal election, it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope. Thank you very much


Reflection by Qaisar Siddiqui

I'm angry.

I'm angry that 49 innocent lives were ended so cruelly and so prematurely.

I'm angry that it happened in a place which ought to have been the safest space for the expression of LGBTQ identities.

I'm angry that so many tributes will be laced with the provisos of "not agreeing with the lifestyle", as if the right to companionship, family, and romantic love is on par with a half-thought-out choice between two different fashions. As if there’s something inherently depraved or sinful or dirty with the right to dance.

I'm angry at the self-appointed scholars who claimed that their prescriptions of the death penalty for gay men and women applied to Muslims alone, as if the blatant existence of LGBTQ Muslims could be so easily erased with rhetorical sleight of hand, as if the demarcation between the "decadent" West and the chaste world of Islam could be so neatly defined.

I'm angry at NARTH. Santorum. The Tea Party and Ted Cruz.

I'm angry that actual POTUS candidate Trump shamelessly gloats while fifty families confront overwhelming loss, knowing full well that his vile words and execrable conduct - which for any other candidate would be their immediate downfall - are but loose chippings in the tyres of his campaign juggernaut, pushed on as it is by a groundswell of xenophobes and racists.

I’m angry at your useless thoughts and prayers.

I'm angry at the Islamic bookstores that saw no contradiction in stocking texts that preached beauty, love, forgiveness, and compassion - and placed them adjacent to those that spoke of gay men in the most repulsive, bestial of terms, of AIDS as a divine retribution.

I'm angry at the absolute trash of "hate the sin, love the sinner."

I'm angry that once again, overpaid beltway lobbyists with slicked hair and thousand dollar suits will claim that America's love affair with the AR-15, as with the Hummer and carbonated sugar water, isn't slowly throttling the country to death.

I'm angry that the scores of innocent refugees clawing their way to havens in Europe, having lost families and friends to the madness engulfing the Middle East, having sacrificed whatever meagre rations and wealth they can still access, having given up on any possibility of a life in their homelands, and having risked life and limb to cross the Mediterranean, will face even less compassion in the wake of yet another terrorist attack on Western soil.

I'm angry that so many won't realise that this is what refugees are running from.

I'm angry that Daesh has already murdered gay men by comparably reprehensible means, as if to sanctify the words of those who would claim that non-heteronormative sexualities don't exist in Islamic communities. At those who treat the killer’s sexuality as a get-out-of-introspection card, or his religion as further affirmation of a Huntington thesis.

I'm angry at Mississippi, at North Carolina. At Iran. Uganda. Pakistan. Russia. At hangings, at sterilisations, "traditional values", donation bans. At the politicisation of our bathrooms, our bedrooms, our businesses, our bodies, and the resultant audacity to be told that we cannot politicise - or even own -  our own deaths.

I'm angry that I was shouted down in a university ISOC meeting for suggesting gay Muslims had a right to exist. At family members who sent me whole paragraphs calling me revolting. At the unparalleled ugliness that my teenage self crawled through. At the modulation of my song choices, clothes, and voice. At the cuts, the bruises, the verbal abuse, self inflicted or otherwise. At the million times I had to look over my shoulder or uncouple hands. At the projection of the Divine that remained endlessly indifferent.

I'm angry that my anger prevents me from saying anything remotely coherent.

Most of all;

I'm angry that the only other thing I can do is cry.

Reflection by Lindsay River

'The shooter was gay'.

On Tuesday when I arrived at an LGBT community group I was told this and it was as if the bottom dropped out of my head. I think the extremity of my shock and upset was because I had been here before:  with Brian Copeland who set bombs in 3 venues in 1999 and, killed three people and maimed more.  I’d been out in London the night of the Admiral Duncan attack, trying to get home through the roadblocks, and very frightened.  Then at the time of his trial, Copeland was said by some to have been a repressed homosexual.  No, we were not victims, this speculation seemed to say, we were the perpetrators.

So this time when I heard ‘the shooter was gay’. I was very upset, I argued. I said 'having same sex attractions doesn't make you gay. Same sex attraction is a very ordinary human experience for a fairly large proportion of the population if they don't manage to repress it. What makes you gay or bi is embracing that and identifying as gay or bisexual.'

Later that day, though I stood with that, and stand with it still, I had to come to terms with the fact Omar Mateen may have been strongly attracted to men. I did more thinking about internalised murderous homophobia and its causes, which I believe lie in the pervasive homophobia and transphobia still rampant in society. It doesn’t really matter what culture someone has in their background, he could have come from one of many that nurture homophobia and push same sex attractions into hate. Same sex marriage doesn’t cut it for me, I don’t experience this as the cherry on the top of a raft of equality protections that have made it safer to be LGBTQIA. Oh no, nothing so good as that. I am not safe till all my LGBTQIA siblings are safe (and especially LGB and trans people of colour, who are disproportionately targeted in hate crime). What matters to me is what people are taught about homosexuality (if it is mentioned at all) and how they are supported, and by whom, if their orientation turns out to be at odds with the views of their family or community.

Mostly I am very concerned that much of straight society may take even less responsibility for the way heterosexism and homophobia led to this horror: as if it were only a psychological problem of people who cannot accept their own sexuality. So it could all be made 'other' by the mainstream society Mateen grew up in. So much ‘other’.   I can imagine some thinking, generalising, othering: ‘Well he was gay, and he was Muslim.  He must have had mental health problems. Nothing to do with us’.

Yet Mateen’sapparent hatred and anger were part of a widespread problem of bigotry and uncontrolled blame of othered groups which society does far too little to address.
Of course it is still all speculative and everything about motive serves someone's agenda. Even mine.

Yes, I have an agenda.  I crave a widespread programme in response to this massacre, to all the other massacres.  I would like the programme to look at systemic bigotry in all kinds of services, and in government, and to institute urgently needed educational programmes in schools and in public media. There it is: my agenda.

In the meanwhile I am pleased to see care and respect here for the grief and the loss and fear, for as long as it takes, in the communities affected by this, those from whence the victims came and those who have something in common with the shooter.  As indeed I have myself.   Nobody is other.


Message, by Andy Pakula

This past week has brought some deeply troubling events. Early Sunday morning, a man began shooting people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting went on for hours before he was killed. 49 people died and at least 53 were injured, many in ways that would change their lives forever.

And then on Thursday, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and killed outside her constituency surgery in Birstall, near Leeds. She was 41 years old and leaves a husband and two young children.

These were not random killings. Omar Mateen, who committed the massacre of LGBT people in the Florida nightclub claimed an allegiance to ISIS.

Jo Cox was killed by Thomas Mair, who yelled ‘Britain First’ as he assaulted the MP and appears to have neo-Nazi connections, or at least white supremacist sympathies.

And knowing all of this - seeing the photos - hearing about the lives cut short - learning of the wounded whose lives are forever changed - knowing about the bereaved who will have to try to go on in their lives without a son, a daughter, a wife, a husband, a brother, a sister, a mother, or a father - this tears at our hearts. If the enormity of the horror has not overwhelmed and numbed us, then we too feel the pain of this loss.

We may feel fear. Here in Britain, we have seen that even an MP - a person trying to do good for others - can be gunned down in the middle of her day. Who amongst us is not vulnerable? And hearing of the far-right connections may make left-leaning people afraid. And that includes most of us.

In the US and in most places in the world, bias and violence against LGBT people is a constant threat. LGBT people have felt this fear for a long time and it is not gone. It may even increase just as the movement toward greater equality makes greater progress and those who fear these changes become more desperately uneasy.

In the US, LGBT people are the group most likely to be targeted in hate crimes - more likely than Jews, Muslims and people of African descent - the next most targeted groups.
We may feel sorrow and fear, but that is not all.

There is anger. We may feel absolutely overwhelmed with it - seething and longing to strike back in some way. Sorrow and fear and anger are all reactions that normal people have, and we may be sad, afraid, and angry in quick succession or even some complicated combination all at the same time.

We are a gentle angry people.

We have good reasons to be angry. To be angry with the killers - to be angry with the American lawmakers who refused to control access to guns - to be angry with the gun manufacturers happy to put profit above human lives. 36 Americans are killed by gun violence every day - amounting to nearly 13,000 last year.

And we may be angry with those who have created the environment that makes such horrible, cruel acts seem justified in some minds. There are plenty of these people to be angry with. In the US, these attitudes come from radio, they come from politicians, they come from bloggers and websites and Twitter. And they are spoken from pulpits.

In Britain, the messages may be more polite than across the pond, but they are clear nonetheless. All across Europe, far right xenophobic and racist attitudes are resurgent, and that stance is echoed and encouraged by many both in and out of government.

Although our anger is justified. Although a burning hatred may be justified, we must take a step back.

We, who believe in the worth and dignity of every person - we who know the transformative nature of connection and understanding - we who proclaim the primacy of love in the quest for a better future - must step back from the endless cycle of destruction that is caused by answering hate with hate.

We step back and remember that the people who killed human beings are also human beings. We don’t know Thomas Mair or Omar Mateen. We may never know enough to understand what drove them to do what they did.

We don’t know their lives and their terrors. We don’t know what made them so susceptible to messages of hate. We don’t know what caused them to have so little compassion that they took innocent lives. We don’t know who we would be if we had lived their lives.

We are a gentle angry people.

Gentle because - if for no other reason - we know that responding to violence and hatred with more of the same will never create the world we want to see. We know that hatred plus hatred can never equal love.

We are gentle because we believe and know that love can be stronger than hate.
Responding to hatred with love is not a trick and it is not easy. It is far harder than hating and harder than turning to violence and vengeance.

Martin Luther King, Jr., responding to the hatred and persecution of African Americans in the US said this:

“Darkness can can never drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate can never drive out hate; Only love can do that.”

I know it can seem simplistic. I know it can seem unrealistic. Why should we love a mass killer? Why should we love neo-Nazis? Why should we love people who would want us dead? And how can we do that even if we agree we should?

This love does not mean approval. It does not mean wanting to meet a killer or keep him out of prison.

What it means is thinking of every person as a real live human being - different from ourselves by nature and nurture - but human nonetheless. It means remembering that all of us humans have dreams of how our lives could be. We all suffer from disappointment and loss and humiliation and shame. We are hurt when we are abused. We get sad and angry and frightened. We all want to be happy. We all want to be loved.

I don’t believe that any of us are truly evil - that anyone awakes in the morning thinking of a plan to harm others and make them suffer just for the sake of it.

Most of us have harmed someone at some time or another - probably many times. Was it your intent to cause pain?

We may harm out of fury or humiliation or out of a sense of what is the good we seek. Most conflict comes, not when a good people fight a bad people. Neither side ever says ‘we are the evil ones and happy about it.’ Both sides want a good, but they understand it in tragically different ways.

Gentle angry people try to change the world for the better. They try to change people who they believe are causing harm and injustices. And gentle angry people know that minds do not change through hatred. Minds do not change by violence.

In the short term, aggression can make a change. An enemy can be crushed and fearful. But the seeds have been sown for more violence and more hatred.

I wish I could tell you that the path of love is a certain and rapid route to understanding and that with a little more love, flowers will replace guns and bombs everywhere and everyone will get along. We know that’s not true.

But we also know that killing or even demeaning our enemies is not and has never been a reliable path to understanding and tolerance. It provides an outlet for our fury. It may have an effect in the short term. But it leads to even more anger, resentment, and polarisation in the long run. “Us” and “them” become more entrenched, more foreign to one another, and more certain of the “otherness” of their opponents.

It is natural for human beings to divide into “us” and “them.” It is natural for “us” to begin to imagine about “them” that they do not feel as we do, and for “them” to imagine the same about “us.”

Our love will not stop killing and terrorism today nor will it eradicate the hatred and anger that fuel it. Whilst we can not change today with a snap of our fingers, our love can change the future. Our commitment to compassion and understanding can change the way our children and their children will relate to one another. Our actions today determine the shape of the world in which our children and our children’s children will live.

This kind of love starts with curiosity. Why are xenophobia and racism increasing? How can we have understanding for the fear that drives it? How can we help to lessen that?

Why would someone want to kill LGBT people? How can we understand and once we understand, how can we work with love to change things.

It is time that good people, like King and Gandhi before us, turned away from hatred and condemnation and spoke of a different way - a way of love. It is a hard path. It is a path that causes us discomfort as we try to get inside the heart of an enemy. It is an uncertain path and a long road whose end is beyond our own lifetimes if there is an end at all. But we know where the road of anger and dehumanisation leads and we have had enough of that journey.

Let us work toward a world where understanding and love are the tools with which we address conflict. If not for us, let us do it for those who come after.

May it be so.