Nearly a year ago, the Supreme Court handed down one of the most groundbreaking decisions in the Court’s history – and one of the single greatest moments in the LGBT community’s struggle to achieve full and equal dignity in this nation. In reference to the right to marry, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
Their plea is that they do respect [marriage], respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
It seems as if in these sentences the United States government officially, and finally, recognized the ardent and unending fight for the civil liberties of all LGBT Americans.
I remember that day clearly. It was a beautiful summer day in the sunshine state – a day that I had been anticipating for months as I looked toward the future and knew of the decision to be made by nine Justices in Washington, a decision that would, at the very least, lay the foundation for my future. Before that summer began, I officially told my parents that I was gay before I had told nobody else. The decision to reveal my sexual orientation only to my family still did not remove from the closet, but it allowed me to look through the keyhole toward a reality where I could begin to be happy in my own skin and learn to love who I always had been. Equally beautiful days would soon follow: Nevada and Oregon banned conversion therapy, Utah began to protect LGBT citizens from forms of discrimination, a transgender individuals were granted greater protections and right in many nations around the world.
But the year of equality, the year that so many Americans dreamed of in which LGBT rights were finally beginning to be advanced, would soon end in a way that none of us would have ever imagined.
The attack on the LGBT community on Sunday brought an end to forty-nine people’s lives. It brought an end to a remarkable year in our nation where tolerance and love were beginning to prevail against homophobia. It brought an end to the calm, a peace that emerged from love. We will continue to wonder what drove a man to slaughter forty-nine innocent people in the middle of the night. And we will wonder because none of us can fathom the utter heinousness of this crime committed not just against gays, against lesbians, against bisexual people, against transgender people, against peace, against love. How can we as a society come to terms with the notion that evil rained down upon a community whose basis of existence is love itself? Because that is what we must never forget: that the existence and the continuation of the LGBT community rests not in hatred, not in politics, not in violence, but in love itself. Love found it is purest form, love found in its most innocent form, love found it its truest nature that all of us are equal in the eyes of one another, that we are equal regardless of whichever form of evil attempts to divide us – because we will never falter in our strength and in our unity when we stand upon the foundation laid for us by those brave individuals decades ago who fought for the right to be human and to love. A foundation of love made ever-stronger by the victims of Sunday’s attack – for only in their examples of love and peace will humanity be able to move forward in our pursuit of equality and of dignity and of love for one another. And we must resist the temptation of hatred and of bigotry presented to us in this time of great sorrow, for if we as a community and as a society decide to give in to hatred, then we walk closer to the evil that reared itself on Sunday. The only way for our society to heal and to work toward equality and justice is to show the world that we are a society capable of love. That we are a society capable of equality.
This acceptance of love and the creation of a more perfect union does not start instantly, nor is it accomplished within a single generation. Time must pass before we are able to stop the murdering of schoolchildren, before great American cities are no longer riddled with the sounds of never-ending gunfire, and before LGBT teenagers are no longer harassed to the point of suicide. It will take time, it will take work, it will take more effort than we can even imagine – but nobody can say that the final achievement will not be worth it. In order for us to begin working toward this society, we must address the homophobia that is prevalent in our society, the homophobia that has been given a louder voice than the love present in the LGBT community.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic wasn’t thrown into the public square until 1981 as doctors began to recognize the virus in patients in the U.S., despite the fact that the virus had already been killing and affecting individuals living in central Africa for nearly a decade prior. And yet as thousands of American citizens were dying each and every year from this disease, President Ronald Reagan did not even utter the word “AIDS” until around his fifth year in office. This was a mere thirty years ago. It was only twenty years ago, in 1996, that the “number of new AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. [declined] for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic.” And with the HIV/AIDS epidemic came a throng of stigmatization that still has yet to recede. Yes, it is true that gay and bisexual men make up the large majority of HIV/AIDS cases but it never has been, nor will it ever be, appropriate or factual to consider this horrible malady a “gay disease.” Heterosexual women and men are still just as affected, and until we break away from considering this illness an intrinsic part of the LGBT community, we will not make much progress toward equality and non-LGBT patients will continue to be neglected by the public eye.
It seemed within hours of the morning of that blood-filled Sunday CNN was already speculating the possibility that the gunman was apart of a terrorist organization and even, without any substantial evidence, began to speculate that the shooter may have been Muslim. It is very easy for us as a nation and as a community to immediately find someone to blame for an incident of terror, but when we as a society slip into the valley of reproach toward entire groups of people, we become no different than the people who call LGBT individuals “faggots.” Religion is not hatred; religion is love. It is only when religion is perverted to fit in the needs of evil, only then does religion become a false façade for hatred and for bigotry. I can go to my Bible and find a verse condemning me. But I can also find a verse exalting love. However, I cannot deny the fact that many religious individuals have based entire sermons and teachings on the condemnation of the LGBT community. Many religious people recognize this and condemn this perversion of their own faith, just as Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL wrote, “sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people” and “[plants] the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence” toward LGBT individuals. This does not mean we blame religion as a whole – that is merely an ignorant argument in order to cast blame for the presence of evil in the world. We must analyze the actions of people who pervert religion and take religious verses out of context to be justified in their discrimination of individuals. In the Bible there are numerous verses that look negatively upon homosexuality (just as it looks unfavorably on eating shellfish), but that does not mean that all of Christianity despises me as an openly gay man. If individuals are true Christians, than they will remember the Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule. With the vast number of self-identified Christians in our nation, and in the world for that matter, there is no doubt that improper readings and interpretations of scripture have negatively affected our entire nation, but that does not mean we should continue down this path. Religion is not to blame; individuals are to blame for this. And just as it was on Sunday, it is not Islam that was responsible for the attacks, it is one man who will forever carry the blood of the slain upon his soul for as long as we remember the horror of that day. The first person I spoke to when I awoke in the early morning hours to the breaking news was my best friend, a Muslim woman. Both she and I were completely in shock and was brought to tears over the horror that ensued in Orlando. The greatest and more pure love I experienced that day came not from a Christian or an atheist, but rather it came from a Muslim. I do not blame my friend’s religion, I express my sorrow with her over the fact that her faith has been twisted and contorted to fit the needs of the evil – just as I am repulsed when I hear of the perversion of the teachings of Buddha that leads to the killings of many innocent Muslims. It is true that religious individuals have promulgated homophobia through their words and deeds, but we must stop blaming religion as a whole for this hatred. Those who blame religion become no better than the bigots who hate members of the LGBT community. If we ever wish to overcome the crippling homophobia present in our nation, we must not push back against religion as a whole, but rather we must recognize those who pervert religion and ensure that they do not drown out our love.
As our nation and our community continues on in these cautious and mournful times, we cannot forget the brilliant smiles and gorgeous hearts we lost on that night in June. We cannot forget that they were once held by their parents, newly born into this world, and that they hoped to hold their own children one day. We cannot forget their unending struggle to achieve love. We cannot forget the hardships they faced as they reconciled their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their society, their families, and their faith. We cannot forget their names. We cannot forget them, because if we lose touch with the people who have long since passed from our world, we will soon lose ourselves in the chaos of life. And as we venture onward, we must continue to refer to this attack as not just an attack on all Americans and on peace itself, but as an attack on the LGBT community. In the future, if we neglect to call this senseless act of viciousness what is it, a hate crime, then we will neglect to remember the suffering and the scar that was slashed upon the heart of the LGBT community that day.
So as we mourn the loss of our sisters and our brothers, the martyrs of Orlando, we must retain the knowledge that their love shall forever remain within our hearts. If we emulate their love and their passion for life, then we too shall become the bearers of hope and love in this world. For only in the cultivation of our seeds of love shall we grow in equality and grow in life.
Tapp is the editor-in-chief for The Millennial Times.