The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Column: Orlando could not 'have been any of us'


Online managing editor Danny Nett

When I heard about the Orlando shooting, I was lying in a hotel room, recovering from a hangover at D.C. pride.

The day before was spent drinking and cheering and clapping and catching beads and baking in the sun, surrounded by hundreds of other LGBTQ people. I don’t have words for the overwhelming beauty of celebrating who you are. A feeling most of us experience for a weekend out of every year.

For two days, we get to set down the weight of our lives being constant revolutionary and political acts. We get to rest. We get to meet a cute boy and go to lunch and walk around and be wonderfully average.

When I was walking through DuPont to the parade on Saturday, there were more lesbian couples than straight ones around us. And I remember turning to my friend and asking: “Do you ever think about high school civics class, where you sat there and listened to your classmates debate about whether we deserved rights?”

She said yes. I responded, “I feel like we’ve finally won.”

Twelve hours later, a man walked into Pulse nightclub with an assault rifle and executed the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

At the same moment my friends and I were out drinking and celebrating and letting our guards down, 850 miles away our counterparts were being terrorized, gunned down, held hostage — hiding in a bathroom stall.

This man was so repulsed by the idea of gay people being happy that he turned an assault rifle on more than 100. Another man was arrested the following afternoon, reportedly driving with an assault rifle and explosives to L.A. Pride.

After this weekend, when I think of N.C. Pride in September or the nights I wanted to spend partying at Legends Nightclub in my senior year, something in my chest tightens in the fear that a single, hateful person could walk through the door and take every one of my closest friends, exes and gay classmates away from me. Someone could steal me from my parents, my sisters and my future.

Growing up, I learned quickly that at any moment on the street, I must be constantly gauging and adjusting my femininity, my masculinity, my walk, the pitch of my voice, the straightness of my wrists, whether the looks passersby are giving me are benign or condemning — for fear of being a victim of someone’s hate.

And one of the most beautiful things about Pride is when you’re around other queer people, those nagging thoughts go quiet. You stop monitoring. You become yourself. And over time, those thoughts stay quiet, even when you’re around straight people.

On the walk to work Monday afternoon, I caught myself monitoring again — for the first time in years since I came out. I silently questioned whether every person I passed on the street that day hated or might want to hurt me.

That man in Orlando did more than commit a mass shooting — he shattered our community and sense of sanctuary.

Which is why, in the wake of this attack, there is no room for generic statements of 50 lives lost to a terrorist. Because it could not “have been any of us” that night.

The people at Pulse weren’t the target of the United State’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history by coincidence. It wasn’t because they were American or because they were the wrong faith.

On Sunday, 49 people were shot to death for being queer, and we cannot ignore that or brush it under the rug.

In a space we created because we weren’t welcome to be ourselves anywhere else; during the time of year when we can come together to openly celebrate as a community; on a night specifically for Latino and Latina queer people to share in the beauty of their dual identities — they were slaughtered like it was a war zone.

You can’t say they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were precisely where they belonged this weekend — and that’s what makes this so terrifying.

In the last few days, people have desperately tried to root out potential reasons why a man would want to do this, but it’s not immigration. It’s not the Islamic State or another foreign terror.

Over the course of his life in America, he watched politicians proudly exclude queer people from marriage, employment and housing protections, insurance coverage, visitation rights for loved ones, bathroom and locker room use, blood donation, child adoption, serving in the military.

And in the week after he took 49 lives in a gay nightclub on June 12, 2016, those people got on TV and Twitter and Facebook and confidently acted as if they had no hand in molding his perception of us as lesser beings.

The truth is that the shooter’s reasons are right here at home — and that is why I am afraid.


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