Going into this weekend, during which much of my activities and movements will center around the Columbus Pride Festival. There is still, if I am do be honest, a very real layer of apprehension residing in my heart from the Orlando shooting. I have faith in my community though. I sincerely do. Every year I reflect back on my first Pride. Just a week before that, I had walked through the doors of a gay club, Axis Nightclub here in Columbus, for the first time. It felt liberating to be amongst people like me for the first time. I didn’t have to be conscious of my word choices, worry if my voice sounded too gay, or constantly monitor my hand movements to make sure they were masculine enough. I could just be me. Now, six years later, I don’t think about those things, but community is still on my mind, and that concept has grown in depth and scope for me.
The Orlando shooting hit all of us, across the global, and especially the Latino/Latina, LGBTQ community. The anger captured inside one man, consumed by his own internalized homophobia, ended the lives of 49 people. All of us that identify as LGBTQ persons are forced to look at that event and realize it could have been us. I think back over my own spiritual journey and the internalized homophobia that filled me. I was so focused on trying to drive myself and others like me to be who I was told, who I thought, God wanted me to be that it never occurred to me that I might already be exactly who God intended me to be. Sadly, the young man who saw no other alternative than to violently take the lives of others never got the opportunity to realize that, while he and I connect to God through different faith traditions, his own attractions and desires were a valid and true part of his design as well.
Despite this almost palpable feeling of anxiousness, I am comforted by many things. First, I have tremendous friends in this city, friends who look out for each other when we’re out. I am also thankful for Chief Jacobs and the amazing Columbus City Police Department. There are many places where I might be intimidated to approach a police officer because I don’t know if I am going to be confronted with a homophobic reaction from them. I don’t worry about that when I’m here in Columbus. I am also thankful for the organizers at Stonewall and the community business leaders for stepping up to make sure that they environments that many of us will inhabit this weekend will be safe.
I’m also thankful for the community beyond Columbus. While Orlando will be healing from this tragedy for a long time, the stories of the survivors from the club that night bring me a sense of the strength and resolve that inhabits them as well. Hearing the owner of Pulse nightclub, who opened the club to sustain the memory of her gay brother who died of complications related to HIV, say that she will re-open gives me hope. I am also encouraged by the fact that an openly gay Christian artist, Trey Pearson, will be a part of the opening festivities for the Columbus Pride Festival later this evening, and another LGBTQ artist known for growing her talent within the vein of contemporary Christian music, Jennifer Knapp, played a show in Columbus last night. Also, Shane Bitney Crone, who personally shared his own loss of love and the life of his partner, Tom, with us through his documentary 'Bridegroom', is here in Columbus this weekend with his new love, musical artist and former American Idol contestant Rayon Owen. In another week, we will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex weddings across the United States.
In the wake of a enormous tragedy such as Orlando, it is difficult to see the hope, but it is there. While we continue to mourn and grieve, I know that we will heal. There is a part of me that says that I should stay home and not be a part of the festivities this week, but it is not in me to do that. First of all, I have responsibilities this weekend, and a lot of people would be very upset with me if I just took a personal hiatus. Also, there is the reality that it just isn’t in me to hide any more. After my years as an ex-gay and a very closeted life prior to that, retreat is not an option. I place my faith in the people and organizations that make up the the Columbus LGBTQ community and our allies. Please, if you are here in Columbus or celebrating elsewhere, be sage this weekend. Hold those you care about close to you, and don’t assume that anything that causes you concern is too small to bring to someone’s attention.
May we all have a blessed and happy Pride!