It has been a long hard couple of days processing yet another mass shooting at an LGBTQ safe space, hearing of the horror that took five innocent lives and wounded twenty others in a matter of seconds. We refuse to say the name of the domestic terrorist who committed these atrocities, but we want to remember and memorialize those whose lives were taken far too soon: Raymond Green Vance (22, he/him), Kelly Loving (40, she/her), Daniel Aston (28, he/him), Derrick Rump (38, he/him) and Ashley Paugh (35, she/her). These lives were taken simply for existing in their own community.
As we reflect on this mass shooting, we must come to terms with what it really is. It is not a stand-alone incident. It is not a lone wolf murder. No, this type of violence to our community is founded in the homophobia that persists in our communities, families, workplaces, and, yes, even our union.
Homophobic violence can come in many forms – not just mass shootings that make national headlines. Violence can be a tweet from a politician labeling us groomers or denying the existence of trans people. Violence can be when we are told, “I love you, no matter what.” Why “no matter what”? Love us for who we are. Not despite who we are. Violence can come from the church when the little boy in the pew fears coming to terms with who he is because he is told he is an embarrassment to his family. Violence can come from school, where a little girl is taught that girls don’t dress like that.
Violence can be when you overhear your co-workers mocking the trans patient on your floor, or when you catch that disapproving look passed between two union siblings when they learn someone is trans. Violence can be seeing friends share LGBTQ-hating posts on social media, and then tell you they care about you. Violence can be when you are told you’re one of the good ones because you don’t act gay.
Unlike mass shootings that make the 24-hour news channels but eventually get forgotten, this kind of violence can go unnoticed. But it lays the foundation for incidents like Colorado Springs Saturday night or the Pulse Night Club shooting in June of 2016.
The good news is that everyone can play a role in stopping this type of violence. It begins with a look inward – examining what we say, share, or do towards members of the LGBTQ community, taking the time to humanize us and to understand that we are not the enemy or the sinner. We are your parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, CNAs, EMTs, LVNs, teachers, pastors, students, friends, and fellow human beings just trying our best to navigate life. Just like you.
To our community siblings who lost their lives on that Saturday night, we will not forget you. We won’t allow your lives to be lost in vain. We will continue to fight for equity in your name and in the names of so many others who have lost their lives for just existing and being who they are.