*Disclaimer: I wrote this with information I knew at the time. Details may be shifting, but this was what was known upon time of publishing.*
I woke up this morning knowing I wanted to write a blog post, but had no idea what it would be. And then I opened Facebook.
“Shooting at Orlando Gay a Nightclub Kills 50,” read the headline of an article dozens of my friends have shared.
June is Pride Month, a time of celebration for my community. And then this happens. It is being called the largest mass shooting in modern history. Andthough there is some debate over whether it was related to ISIS, it was also a hate crime, plain and simple.
This is following an event this week in which a woman placed a bomb in a Target restroom, after the company has made it clear they support their transgender customers using their bathrooms of choice.
This was the Target I frequented when I lived in Chicago.
And now, there have been reports of a potential attack stopped when weapons and bomb-making materials were found with a man from Indiana who was claiming that he was intending to go to LA Pride.
These events are too close to home. It is a reminder of how many people would like to see me and my fellow brothers and sisters and gender nonconforming people dead, just for being who we are.
It is a reminder that I am especially not safe in countless states and regions in this country.
And now, with this shooting at a gay club, I am reminded that I am not even safe in the place I considered to be safest of all: my sanctuary, the place that embraces all of me, the place that brings my beautiful community together.
My first gay club experience was at C-Street in Champaign, Illinois during grad school. I was still mostly straight-identified, with a dash of “questioning” thrown in there. The moment I stepped into the club, I felt an overwhelming sense of community. I immediately felt like part of a family. I know it can be a different scene for gay men, a lot of judgment and competition, but for me, it was home.
I loved how instantly connected I felt to everyone, how welcome I was to dance with strangers, to compliment someone else, how I was safe from disgusting guys grinding upon me like I experienced at straight clubs.
Closing my eyes, feeling the house music pumping through the speakers, a bit tipsy from my Vodka Cranberries, everything felt right with the world. I felt free of judgment and surrounded by love.
I felt a bit heretical when I realized it felt more like church to me than I had felt since I had felt since I was a kid.
I felt the community wrap me up and enfold me in its arms.
And that feeling has never gone away. As I began to acknowledge my pansexuality, I realized even more why I felt so at home in gay clubs. It was my true self. And a place where people could find family even if their own biological ones no longer wanted to be involved in their lives.
A room full of lights and sound and pulsing with love, with friendship, with family. My refuge.
I’m realizing now, full of regret, that I wished I had been more actively involved in the Chicago LGBTQ+ scene. Because when I moved to Delaware, there was none.
At least I’m a 45 minute drive to Philly, but I was so disheartened that a college town that housed a large university didn’t even have so much as a gay bar.
This spring, some friends and I drove a few hours south to Rehoboth Beach. I was thrilled to learn that it was considered the “Gay Mecca” of the state, with dozens of LGBT owned businesses and bars and clubs. Still being the off-season for a beach town, most were closed, but we did visit one that was a nice mix of LGBT/straight clientele.
Stepping foot into the bar, I almost cried. That same feeling I found so many years before was here too. I looked around and saw people like me. I felt the warmth emanating from the room.
And then, a few weeks later, I went with some new friends to Philly and visited my first gay club in years.
There were an uncomfortable amount of seemingly straight dudes trying to creep on women. Unfortunately, that happens when they realize all the women are going to gay bars to get away from them, and then they follow the women to gay bars.
But my community was still there.
I saw two adorable women dancing drunkenly, all over each other and obviously crazy about one another. I drunkenly exclaimed how adorable they were together and they responded gleefully “We’re married!”
And I almost cried again.
I stood there, high upon a stage with my friends, surveying the club. Observing my section of humanity. The camaraderie and love. The community that clings to one another because we have no other choice.
Thinking back to these nights, I now imagine my bliss shattered by a hateful human shooting an automatic rifle into the crowd.
I am so broken.
I have cried so many tears today for my family. I am so unable to articulate how deeply this is affecting me.
This has seriously fucked me up.
I wish I could enfold everyone in my arms. I wish we could protect every precious member of this community.
Donate blood for those members of the LGBTQ+ community that are still not allowed to do so.
Stop killing us. Please.