On June 23, 2016

The Orlando Massacre, a human tragedy

By Lee Kahrs, The Reporter
One year ago, I wrote my first View From Here column. It was June 2015 and the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, legally recognized the right of gay and lesbian Americans to marry.
In writing that column, I came out to The Reporter readership. It wasn’t a secret, but it was personal information that I had to share in order to explain my excitement over the court’s historic decision.
Twelve months later, I find myself coming out all over again, but for the most heartbreaking reason.
On June 12, 49 members and allies of the gay community were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. by a man who claimed loyalty to an Islamic terrorist group. Fifty-three others were injured.
The largest mass shooting in the nation’s history, it was an attack on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. It’s been a tough week. I haven’t really been able to talk about the Orlando Massacre. Straight people I know, friends, my parents, co-workers, would talk about it and ask me how I was. I would say “I’m O.K.”, then change the subject or find a reason to leave. Even when I was alone, one minute I would be fine, and the next minute the grief would wash over me and my eyes would well with tears. That is still happening.
Facebook was the only place I found my voice in the days following the massacre. My gay friends and I shared our grief and anger in our posts several times a day for the first week or so. We railed against what we perceived as the straight world co-opting the Orlando Massacre as a human tragedy and side stepping the fact that it was a hate crime targeting homosexuals.
We shared our devastation for our brothers and sisters gunned down in what was for so many a historically safe place. For decades, gay bars and clubs have been a haven for members of the LGBTQ community, a place where we could be ourselves, even if we weren’t out to our families, friends and co-workers.
Twenty-five years ago, I marched in gay pride parades and shouted at the top of my lungs for equal rights. I voted for candidates I believed in and thought would continue to protect my rights to work and live where I chose without harassment and discrimination.
Over the last several years, the “real” world was slowly becoming a safer, more accepting place for us. After decades of fighting for equality, we won the right to marry. There are federal laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people.
But now, there has been a shift in this country, a backlash at the conservative state level. This spring, there was a move to reject laws attempting to protect gays, lesbians and transgender people from discrimination, in North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Orlando is the tragic capstone on a struggle for equality that has been one step forward, two steps back. Forty-seven years have passed since the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City ushered in the modern Gay Rights Movement, but today, 26 states have no laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
And now we are mourning the loss of 49 souls in Orlando in a senseless mass murder that no one could have imagined.
I am not a gay newspaper editor, I am a newspaper editor who happens to be gay. My sexuality does not define me completely. I am human first.
Members of the LGBTQ community are all human beings first. We have mothers and fathers and children and grandchildren who we love dearly. We own homes, we pay taxes, we raise children.
We are your newspaper editors, your hairdressers, business owners, bartenders, mechanics, grocery store workers, social workers, truck drivers, retail store clerks. We are your neighbors and we are your friends, and as human beings we must come together and fight to protect one another against hate and violence in any form.
Orlando was the worst hate crimes imaginable, but if straight America sees it as a human tragedy, I’d call that progress.
Lee Kahrs is the editor of The Reporter in Brandon, a sister publication to the Mountain Times.

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