We all have different ways of coping with tragedy. Mine is to write. I feel that when something, anything happens – it’s always best to write what you’re feeling in the moment.

But I don’t know what I’m feeling at this moment. Since the devastating events at Pulse in Orlando, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. Every time I think I’m OK again, I see something, I read something and I just lose it. I cry, I get angry, I yell at the heavens, and then I’m fine. And then it’s like a repeat of those same actions. People keep asking me how I’m feeling, and I’m tired of feigning out an “I’m OK.” The truth is I’m not.

I’m devastated because this is the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and it has directly affected the LGBTQ+ community - my community. I’ve seen so many of my strongest friends and family reduced to tears by what’s happened. Some have lost friends, some have lost family. I had recently met one of the victims, Edward Sotomayor Jr., affectionately known to his friends as “Top Hat Eddie”, when I was at DragCon, when he was working the ALANDCHUCK booth. We talked for a few minutes about where I was from, what I was doing, but I could tell instantly he was very special. It blows my mind that someone I met by happenstance is gone. He touched so many lives of the people I call friends, and to see them so hurt tears me up inside.

I keep hearing these words from literally everyone I’ve talked to: “It could have happened to any of us, anywhere.” Because it’s true. We come together at gay bars because they are our safe havens in a world that has continually told us we are not equal, that it is not ok to be different and has told us that strongly, violently at times. I truly appreciate that my coworkers and my straight allies have been there for me. To hear “You were the first person I thought of” is comforting, but at the same time, I want to remind everyone out there trying to dismiss this as just another shooting or a terrorist attack: it could have been someone you love in that club. It could have been me.

I’m pissed off because we are being, intentional or not, erased. With the exception of a few (thank you Anderson Cooper, more about that in a minute), the news media has portrayed this as a terrorist attack, and while that may be true – this was a targeted attack on a gay nightclub. And last I checked my dictionary, “hate crime” was defined as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

Let me say it again for ya’ll in the back trying to downplay: THIS. WAS. A. HATE. CRIME.

I’m so fed up with the fascination that the shooter was born here, was potentially radicalized and at the last minute, declared allegiance to the Islamic State. And that all makes for great soundbites and headlines, and it may be true. But a hate crime is a hate crime, especially considering the allegations he often vocalized his hatred of LGBT people. Unfortunately, in the national media, the hate crime portion is getting swept under the rug. And while we’re on the subject, I want the media to stop omitting the fact that Pulse was a gay nightclub. IT WAS. There were LGBTQ people in that club, 49 of them are dead, 53 wounded. So stop omitting that acronym or word as well.

Because by omission, it’s making it right for idiots like Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) to try and claim it wasn’t. The victims of these attacks were by and large, gay, Latino citizens of this country. Don’t try and minimize what happened by what sounds better. It just gives morons in power room to say incredibly hurtful and stupid things during this time of mourning.

Things like that it’s the fault of Muslims for this tragedy. It is not. I’ll say it again and again and again until my face turns blue. Just like we don’t want the religious right to lump the LGBTQ community in with what they deem horrid things, we cannot do that for the Muslim community, specifically the Muslim-American community within our own borders. At our own vigil this past Sunday, I was horrified hearing a man a few feet from me spitting out horrendous falsehoods about Muslims while a Muslim-American speaker had taken the stage to try and heal our community. (Thankfully he was shouted down twice before leaving.) And that same day and this week, Donald Trump has tried to blame this hate crime on the Muslim population and renew his call for a total ban on letting an entire religion of people into this country. This is dangerous rhetoric.

The blame for this does not lie solely with the shooter. It lies with us, with our society, with the anti-gay rhetoric that has become part of our everyday lives. You know - the one that has told the LGBTQ community for years that they do not matter. The society saying our “lifestyle” was a “choice” and not something we born with. The society enforcing an outdated FDA that guideline our blood may be HIV infected and even if it isn’t, still is not good enough for donations. The society trying to tell us our marriage is not equal to theirs, which bathroom to use, how “gay” we can act, all these ridiculously hurtful double standards.

That kind of bullshit and false rhetoric has done just as much damage and is as harmful as those bullets. And if it is true that the shooter was anti-gay, all of those things are just as to blame.

That’s the rollercoaster I’ve been on. But when I get off, I ask myself: where do we go from here?

For one, we need to continue to raise our voices. Our collective voice as a community is one of the strongest tools we have socially and politically. Make sure that people do not ever forget that this was a hate crime. We need to continue to call out the fallacies, especially the rumors of a second and third shooter that continues to permeate social media and they just aren’t true. (The original post of that came from someone who had tried to illicit sympathy by claiming he had AIDS to try and scam people out of money.) Politically we need to support those who have our backs, and see through and call out the bullshit, especially the senators and representatives who have offered us “their thoughts and prayers” – when they have voted time and time again against our community and our needs. Just days after the shooting, an LGBT protections bill was voted down by, you guessed it, Republican representatives. Our voices are strongest when we continue to call the double standards out loud and proud. It’s why I am so proud of Anderson Cooper for going toe-to-toe with Florida attorney general Pam Bondi over her sudden (and somewhat hollow) support for the LGBT community, considering her offices had fought to enforce the ban on same-sex marriage, as well as deny protections to the LGBT community she suddenly has decided to support.

We need to see through the fear-mongering tactics. Look people, if you really think Donald Trump has this community’s best interests at heart, I want you to look at the screenshot I’ve included with this piece.

This was tweeted on Sunday after the shooting. If you think for one second that Trump wants to protect our community, he won’t. He is trying to pit us, the LGBTQ community against the Muslim community. He wants more guns, more harassment and abuse of Muslim-Americans. Please, I implore you, do not believe what he is trying to throw out. That single tweet spat in the face of our community and disrespected the families of those who lost someone Sunday.

On a personal note, I take great offense with Trump’s stance. I am a gay man of partial Syrian descent, and I refuse to let this disgraceful person continue to demean an entire people. And don’t pander to my LGBTQ community by saying you’ll “protect” us. You’ve already said you’d appoint a court of justices to repeal same-sex marriage. Frankly, Donald, we don’t need your kind of protection.Our community is about love and acceptance, things not welcome in your campaign, apparently. AND WE SEE THROUGH YOU, as your #AskTheGays hashtag debacle has proved. (Give us social media and GIFs, we will absolutely derail your efforts.)

We also need to rise up and demand sensible gun control. This is probably going be the point that splits people. I’ve accepted the fact that we can’t ban guns, period. But assault rifles, like the Sig-Sauer MCX used by the shooter have absolutely no place in our society. I want an assault weapon ban, because there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for people to have them. At all. Contact your senators and representatives and demand a change in our lax gun control laws. Tell them you want universal background checks. And if they’re on the list of those that have accepted NRA donations while offering us “thoughts and prayers” ask them why…or better yet…look into the electoral races in their district.

I know it’s gonna suck politicizing this, but why not. Our opponents have politicized everything else about our lives: our right to marry, to use the bathroom, even to visit our loved ones in the hospital. Even after the tragedy, an LGBTQ rights bill was quickly shouted down. It’s time we politicize and take back our lives and fight for what we want. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election this year as well as a third of the Senate. If your representative or senator took money from the NRA (*Glares at Senator Blunt, our Missouri Republican Senator who took more money from the NRA than any other member of the U.S. Senate*) – start seeing if there is someone in the race in the other party who will stand up not only for sensible gun control reform but the LGBTQ community as well. As I write this, I see that Senate democrats (including our own Claire McCaskill) are filibustering in the Senate to try and bring discussion of gun control reform to the floor – so there’s hope something may FINALLY change after this.

If you’re a straight ally and in the fight with us, I want you to help call out the BS. If you’ve overheard people telling us as a community to get over it – call that shit right out, because we need you with us in this now more than ever. If you see on someone’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, whatever, a message of hate or a threat – report that. My friend Misty Violet had a horrifying message left for her on her Periscope, and “copycats” are springing up all over the place. Report them immediately – don’t engage, just report. The bigots out there are going really try and come for us, and some need to learn that these threats, especially in the wake of any kind of violence, aren’t taken lightly.

Lastly, we need to, collectively, stand strong and proud. Terrorist or not, hate crime or not, this was supposed to bring us to our knees. Instead we’ve shouted back loud and proud that we’re not going to take this and we’re not going to be afraid.

To quote my favorite play in the universe, Rent, “measure your life in love.” If you have caught yourself, like me, after this shooting hugging people more and telling them you love them, do it every day. Make it so ordinary that it’s a daily thing – I promise you people won’t ever dislike being told that. It may get repetitive, but it will make a difference. Same with burying the hatchet - grudges are dangerous things. Live and let live and move on from any drama holding you back. You have today, and tomorrow is NOT promised.

And I know this sounds nacho-cheesy but live your life now. Go for your dreams, live your life and just be you to the fullest. It’s the best revenge when someone tries to disrupt our way of life. Because there is truly (Rent again) no day but today.

Get involved with the community’s efforts to help Pulse and help Orlando! If you can’t give blood, donate time, energy, money, whatever you can. My friend and one of my fave drag queens in the business, Detox, is pairing up with ThreadMeUp to raise money for Orlando with these wonderful shirts you can get here (https://www.threadmeup.com/movements/orlandostrong#/). I’m sure St. Louis will be coming out strong with our own fundraisers, and I encourage everyone to get involved. This spirit of our community, locally and nationally may be hurt right now, but it’s stronger than I have seen it in a very long time.

I want to also encourage everyone to be visible. Be you, be proud to be whoever you are. Come to PrideFest this year and don’t be afraid. That’s exactly what the shooter and our opponents want. Fear. Uncertainty. The greatest gift of defiance, the single greatest thing you can do for the victims and for the community of the world is to be you and live your life the same way you have before the shooting and even louder and prouder after.


We WILL get through this and I promise you, dear readers, the world will not forget the LGBTQ community after this, they will remember us, and they will most definitely remember the names of the 49 we lost.




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