Orlando, Or-Anywhere

In the South, we often joke that central and southern Florida are just a little south of Manhattan – i.e., not really the South. It’s nearby, but it’s also a world away. It’s a quip that makes sense if you’ve ever lived in the South, and one that is usually harmless, but one that falls flat on a week like this one.

We cannot distance ourselves from one another. Not geographically, not emotionally, not because of differences in identity. Not now. We cannot. We should not. And yet, heartbreakingly and to our own detriment, we do.

I saw several of my friends post a variation of this message on social media in the hours and days after news broke of the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando: “To everyone who changed their profile to the French flag after the Paris attacks, who mourned Harambe the gorilla, and who has said nothing yet about the 50 lives we just lost… where are you? Why are you not posting your support of the LGBT community targeted in this attack?”

Indeed, how can any of us distance ourselves from this tragedy? Even if one does not identify as LGBT, how far away can anyone be from any of our brothers and sisters? The point is well-made: Americans are not Parisian, yet I saw far more people claim JE SUIS PARIS than I have yet seen acknowledge WE ARE ORLANDO. The bridge to a gay nightclub in Florida should not be farther than the one to France.

The terrifying massacre unleashed as people danced this past weekend happened in Orlando at the Pulse Club. As citizens, there are two simple, terrifying facts we need to notice: It could have happened anywhere in America, and it did happen there. Both of these simple, terrifying facts matter. We need to care not only because it “could have been us,” but because on some level it was us. We must witness and acknowledge both the particular – this was an attack on a queer-identified space – and the universal: none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

I did post something about the tragedy on social media that day, but it wasn’t very articulate. I didn’t know what to say other than to bear witness and offer love and support. Despite the fact that I am definitely in the camp of feeling that “thoughts and prayers” are insufficient, a few days post-tragedy I am still reeling and unsure what to say or do. There are conversations to be had around guns, discrimination, abuse, homophobia, other-ing, keeping our distance… I don’t know yet what to say, but I know we cannot be silent.

I also know we need hope. A few hours after I heard the news, that same Sunday night, a large group of theater friends crowded into our home to watch the Tony Awards. There were more tears shed that night than usual, and one moment in particular that had us all clutching hands and hearts, when Lin-Manuel Miranda shared his sonnet:

Sitting so close together in that snug room full of diverse and dedicated people, distance from this tragedy felt all the more maddening and impossible. We wondered how many other people might have been at Tony parties or family dinners that night, who were robbed of all their future plans. We put ourselves in their shoes, and we wept. We are all so close to this terror — but we are also close to one another. We need to acknowledge our proximity, and draw strength from it, not just fear. We need shared moments of hope and the beautiful reminder that love is love is love.

We also need action – and this week, even if it took a few days, there are actually several large steps being taken. There’s the just-starting filibuster in Congress, giving one ray of hope. And right here in Jackson, Mississippi, a city ordinance passed banning LGBT discrimination. We need to support these actions and push for more of them. Let’s all find our way forward, advancing together, fighting the fear, and diminishing the distance between us.

We are Orlando.

We all deserve to be safe.

We need to work together to ensure each other’s safety.

To use some language particular to one of my tribes, but universal in its peaceful wish for all, ken y’hi ratzon – may it be God’s will that soon and in our time we can all sit under our vines and our fig trees, and none shall make us afraid.

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