Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

Friend Grief and Orlando

Jun 14, 2016 by Victoria Noe, in Friend Grief , friends , Grief , LGBT , LGBTQ , Orlando , Pulse
pulseLike most of you, I woke up Sunday morning to the news of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And although the immediate rush to judgment was that it was a terrorist attack carried out by a young Muslim man, the unfolding truth is more complicated.

As I write this, we’re learning that he was not only infuriated by the sight of two men kissing, but he himself had spent time at the nightclub. He may have had a profile on a gay dating app. The facts are still being revealed. We’ll never really know why.

But one fact is certain: a gay nightclub was targeted. A group of people officially hated by most of the major religions and regularly denounced by politicians. A group of people that has endured an epidemic that is now 35 years old.

That’s the part that I can’t get out of my head, because I feel in some ways like it’s 1986, not 2016. As stunning as the developments have been in recent years for equal rights, so too has been the backlash. And much of it is eerily familiar.

When I read about bakers refusing to provide wedding cakes for gay weddings, I remember funeral directors who refused to bury anyone who died of AIDS.

When I read about protests at Target, against their policy of allowing transgender people to use the restroom they wish, I remember protests against allowing young Ryan White to attend school.

When I watched the Tony Awards, everyone was wearing ribbons, though they were silver this time, not red.

Last night I read about a call for volunteers to visit wounded survivors in the hospitals in Orlando because their families had kicked them out of their homes for being gay. I remembered a young man I visited in the hospital who was dying of AIDS. His family refused to visit, until they came to claim his body and return him home for a Christian burial and prayers that he would not in fact burn in hell (though they believed he deserved it).

For two days I’ve watched my friends in the LGBT community grieve: grief like I haven’t witnessed in decades. I’ve watched them speak before thousands of people in public vigils, honoring the dead and resolving to work for a better world. Again.

So, yeah…flashbacks.

I’m not going to lie: I don’t feel very optimistic right now. But I do know that what will sustain the survivors, the families and the friends is ultimately what got everyone through the early, dark days of the AIDS epidemic: love.

Friends – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, gender queer – will make the difference again. We will be there to help in any way we can. We will push down our own grief to get the job done. We have to: because so many in the LGBT community have been turned away by their birth families. Friends will continue to step up.

What we won’t do now – and didn’t do then – was try to contain the rage. As one of the long-time volunteers at the Names Project told me about why she continues to work on the AIDS Quilt, “the anger fuels me”.

I hope we’re all angry right now: angry that anyone can cause that kind of destruction on a group of people they hate. Angry that anyone can hate a group of people that much. Angry that so many people are celebrating – online, in hypocritical "thoughts and prayers" comments and from the pulpit – the loss of forty-nine innocent lives.

And I hope to God we’re angry enough to do something to stop it from happening again.