written by Irina Gallagher
It has been a devastating week in Central Florida after a senseless act of hatred claimed 49 lives and left 53 people injured – some still fighting for their lives. Of course, as a community, we have mourned previous mass shootings. We have shed tears for the victims and families of cities around the country and around the world. We have held our babies closer after all of these tragic events. We have dealt with the heavy hearts. We have tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the affected communities. We have listened to Obama give the aftermath speech time and time again. But this was different. This was right in our backyard, an hour away. The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. An hour away from home. In Orlando, where my (now) husband and I used to go when we skipped school (sorry, parents); where I went to college and got lost in parking garages searching for my car on an all-too-regular basis; where my husband commutes for work daily; where we take our kids on weekend trips. This time, it was our community.
This was the first time that there was no way to shelter our 7-year-old daughter from tragedy. While the week was spent trying to avoid the news in the company of our kids and trying to stay informed by quietly reading the Orlando updates; there was no way to shield this. My girl and I had to have a conversation about hate, about how someone could possibly inflict such carnage by singling out a specific demographic. We had to talk about the LGBTQ community as a safe haven and why we need to support something that should just be a given. We had to talk about how we would feel if her aunts were targeted simply because they loved one another. And with this talk, I had to erase a part of my daughter’s innocence.
The following day, we were preparing to go to a local candlelight vigil for the victims of Pulse. My daughter asked if we knew anyone who had died there. I responded that while we didn’t know the victims personally, we were going to show our support, to show unity, “We are going because,” and she finished my sentence “we care.” Yes, we were going because we care. We bought candles and spent time drawing rainbows and hearts on the wax catchers. When we arrived at the vigil, we saw unity. We saw people come together in support of the fallen, but also in support of love and equality. On the way home that evening I asked my daughter if she was able to hear all of the speakers during the ceremony. She answered yes. But what stuck with her most was one line: “We are one.” She was referring to the most powerful speaker of the night, Pastor Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church, who proclaimed “We will not be divided. We will stand together. And we will not allow some cowardly terrorist to pull us apart. We will cry together. We will rise together. We will laugh together. And we will be one.”
There were tears this week over the horrendous act of hatred in Orlando, for the lives lost all too soon, for the state of our world in which a massacre like this can occur. But more tears were shed over the community’s reaction – the thousands upon thousands of people who waited hours in line to donate blood (shout out to my mama); the donations pouring in from all over the world in support of victims’ families; the companies, corporations, and sports teams who have offered support to Orlando in numerous ways; the strangers who have gone out of their way to show various acts of kindness, because they wanted to do something; the vigils drawing hundreds, thousands of people in communities far and wide; and countless stories of love and support. The unity that we have witnessed since last Sunday has been tremendous and I know that not only Orlando feels the love, but the collective LGBTQ community as well. This week showed, above all, that love is greater than hate. Every time.