On June 12th, around 2 AM in Orlando, Florida, a man walked into a gay nightclub with an assault rifle and opened fire, killing 49 people and wounding 53. He likely did this because a few weeks before, he saw two men kissing and got angry.
Does that last sentence sound unbelievable to you? Are you astounded that one simple act could cause the worst mass shooting in United States history? You should be. The media has and will continue to blame this event on terrorism, when in actuality it’s a horrific and blatant act of homophobia and a clear argument for stricter gun control laws.
If I seem a bit angry, you should know that I am. Let me back up a bit.
I have struggled my entire life with the media and society telling me that I am supposed to be attracted to men. It took me a very long time, a lot of self-doubt, and a substantial amount of introspection until I could accept a huge part of myself. Just a few weeks before this tragedy happened, I came out to my parents as gay. The conversation went really well, as I am privileged enough to have extremely understanding and accepting parents. I had been thinking since then about how and when I should come out to the rest of my family. Then, on June 12, I read an article that said nearly 50 members of the LGBT+ community—my community—were murdered in what was supposed to be a safe space for them to openly be themselves.
Many different emotions flooded me after I heard the news. Like most members of the LGBT+ community around the world, I was sad and angry. More than anything else, I was scared. Terrified, even. Suddenly I was thrust into a situation I never thought I would be in. It occurred to me that I was in danger just by existing. I realized that I was someone that some people would see as a target.
My first instincts told me to stay in the closet. My fear tried to convince me that hiding who I really was would keep me safe. While objectively I realized this to be true, I could not convince myself that it was right. I could not stand the thought of struggling with my identity or hiding this huge part of myself again. So, like any good millennial, I came out on Facebook.
I received an outpouring of support and love from my family and friends.
However, that’s a situation only a privileged few will ever get to experience, especially after what happened on the night of June 12th. Hatred against the LGBT+ community and relaxed gun control caused this and will result in more tragedies unless we work together to stop it. We can stop this, but it will take time and effort.
First and foremost, remember that this was an act fueled by homophobia. The shooter’s father stated that his son did not practice any religion and was the one who said the shooter was angry after seeing a gay couple kiss. Going into a gay nightclub during Pride Month and killing those inside was a deliberate and premeditated attack against the LGBT+ community. I wish I could give you links to articles on how to end homophobia in three easy steps, but unfortunately no such thing exists. Instead, the best we can do is preach love and acceptance. If you hear or see a homophobic attack, no matter how small you think it may be, whether it is directed at a specific person or not, step up. Say something. Don’t be silent or static; the absence of action only perpetuates the problem further. Keeping quiet will simply fuel future attacks and breed more hate. Educate others on the lack of LGBT+ rights and representation in our country.
Second, this attack is an undeniable argument for stricter gun control laws. In theory, we should have changed the laws concerning purchasing guns after the first mass shooting occurred, but everyone wanted to believe it was just another isolated incident. We surely should have changed the laws after Sandy Hook. We have now witnessed the largest mass shooting in US history. If we haven’t drawn the line yet, now is the time. Here is a list of states where the senators voted against a bill that would require background checks on people attempting to purchase a gun (spoiler alert: Georgia is one of them). You can contact your state’s senators via Twitter, letters, phone calls or email to tell them that this is not okay, and things need to change. Don’t just tell them once. Keep reminding them how many adults and children have died because just about anyone can own a military grade weapon. Don’t think that your phone calls and emails won’t bring about change; they will. You can make a difference. The sooner a difference is made, the sooner I won’t have to write articles like this. And the sooner we can all live in peace.