NASHVILLE, Tenn., U.S.A. – It was past midnight and I was talking on the phone with a young woman I’ve had a crush on for a while now. She was working night shift, and I’d stay up any hour to lose myself in conversation with her. The whole time she talked about boys, her current heartbreaks and crushes. It did hurt a little, but it was worth talking about if it meant I could build up the courage through the conversation to tell her my feelings.
If you’ve ever been young and in love, then you know how I felt. I was overtaken with absolute warmth, happiness, and peace.
I sat with a goofy smile on my face. I held the phone to my ear and chatted about life, relationships, and love. I was determined to do everything I could to win her heart.
I was caught up in listening to her voice, and almost missed my phone beep with an email. I glanced at my screen and saw that I had a breaking news alert.
“Cat?” I interrupted her thought. “Yes sweetie?” she responded, and my cheeks heated with a blush and a small smile graced my lips. “I’m gonna let you go for one minute to check my email, is it okay if I call you right back?”
Of course she said yes, and I hung up the phone, stifling giggles while my mind replayed our conversation.
In that moment, while staring at the ceiling of my sky blue-colored room, I felt truly happy.
I hummed softly to myself while I went to check my email. It was 3:15 a.m., and in that moment, an icy chill replaced the warmth of Cat. All it said was, ‘Multiple injuries as gunman opens fire at Orlando gay club.’
‘Okay,’ I thought to myself, ‘maybe someone got drunk and stupid, maybe nobody died.’
Deep down, though, I knew that wasn’t the case.
The atmosphere changed as I sat there alone.
Dizzying adoration was replaced by dizzying nausea, numb shock, aching hurt, and undeniable fear.
Even though the sun rose, and the sky lightened up in a display of pink, orange, and blue, the world continued to get darker.
I sat at my desk with shaking hands and a memo pad, researching to find out as much as I could about this attack in the LGBT community, a community that I myself am a part of.
The story continued to progress, and at 6:45 a.m. I got the email confirming, ‘About 20 dead after ‘domestic terrorism’ at Orlando gay club.’
My eyes widened at the words ‘about 20 dead,’ and I re-read them twice to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake.
I pictured 20 people – 20 happy, loving, hopeful, beautiful people – whose lives had been ripped away by someone who hated them, and the excuse for the gunman’s hatred being the way they loved. I pictured 20 families, 20 mothers crying at the loss of a child, 20 fathers regretting words never said, and 20 bright futures blown away with the sound of a gun, and yells of hate.
As I sat at my desk, horrified, I wondered something: Were these 20 people ever bullied as teens, kicked out of their parents’ house, or beat up for being gay? Did they sob into their pillows as young, innocent, helpless youth, and pray to God that somebody would love them? Did they pray for a future filled with freedom to love, for acceptance? Did somebody ever tell those wide-eyed young people, “It will get better?” Did hope cloud their eyes and happy tears spill at the thought that maybe it would? Did they keep moving forward towards the promise of a future of love?
These are all questions left unanswered, as unfulfilled as 20 dreams, lost in a split second during a cruel act of hate. Twenty lives.
To make a long story short, I didn’t call Cat back that night, because that night I decided I love Cat too much to subject her to this hell.
With a throbbing headache I texted her goodnight. I decided that I’ll still put up with her ‘boy talk’ because I love her, but I won’t ever try to gain her affection. I realized that I couldn’t dare do that to someone so lovely. I realized this because of the story of these 20 people got me thinking that no matter how much I try to hide from it, homophobia still exists.
I reminisced on the previous days, and thought about my closest friends, all whom are coincidentally also closeted LGBT teens in the South. We laugh together, we explore together, we dream together, but we have to be careful about talking too deeply or too loudly together.
We can sit at a local diner while I tell them about my crush, and we have a good time, and on the outside we look like we’re living the quintessential teenage life, but under the surface we hold something a bit different that makes things a little darker.
Most people see me, a teenage girl, talking to my two best guy friends about a crush. My friends are laughing too, and telling me about theirs. Here’s what most people don’t see, though: the whispered ‘she’ in sentences that society expects to be replaced with ‘he.’
They don’t see teens who were bullied for their assumed sexual orientation, who have to outright fight anybody who dares to tease them about being gay. They don’t see young people who are terrified about getting kicked out of the house by parents they love and yearn for acceptance from. They don’t see religious guilt, emotional scars, and self-hate. They choose not to see what happened to me and a friend as seventh graders in the mall, when an old lady ripped our hands apart and told us to hold the hand of the guys walking beside us.
Don’t you dare tell me, “Gays don’t have anything to be upset about nowadays.”
After Sunday morning, my phone continued to buzz with notifications, and as of today, June 13, the number of members of my community slain in Florida in a domestic terrorist attack has reached 49.
As I write this though, I am not hopeless.
I do admit, I am scared – which one of us is next? I am angry, and I am sad. What I am not, though, is defeated. None of the LGBT community are. No, we are more passionate and on fire than ever been before. Because while the odds seem against my group of friends, we know for sure that we will win.
We have a mantra that is repeated in hallways at school, in nightly prayers, and when we are together, “Love always wins.”
The fact that nearly 50 lives were taken out of hate is unforgivable, but I’m not going to let that sap my hope.
I’m going to continue writing and fighting for gay rights. I’ll fight in honor of the precious lives taken in Orlando, and the countless other lives taken due to intolerance. I’ll continue the fight of the ones whose fight was taken away from them too soon, and you can, too.
I say all of this to ask you one thing: will you join this fight with me? Violence against the LGBT community is real and happening right under your nose, if you just open your eyes. When you hear hate speech, your friends talking against us, or hear injustice against our community, will you say something, or ignore their crimes, and encourage intolerance? Peace is possible when we come together as a family. Instead of letting this break us apart, we should let it bond us with strength.
I also ask you to accept there is a problem. If this massacre isn’t enough to convince you, what is?