Of Love and Orlando | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Of Love and Orlando

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Donna Ladd

The day before a gunman massacred 49 mostly Latino men and women at the gay club, Pulse, in Orlando, I was wandering through the Brooklyn Pride festival in New York City. It was right around the corner from my rented apartment in Park Slope where I stayed to do more crime-solutions reporting.

I smiled when I saw police officers on duty who I kind of suspect are LGBT: one a young woman with hipster pink hair over her NYPD uniform and another uniformed largish man with telling tattoos showing on the backs of his arms. The woman was carrying a bag with a rainbow flag tucked into it. New York is certainly a city that celebrates diversity; however else one finds to criticize it, its police department openly embraces its diverse members, from Muslim, to Hispanic, to LGBT, in dedicated Twitter feeds to fraternal organizations with members from its various identity groups.

It's a refreshing tossed-salad approach.

The next day, I woke up in Brooklyn to the heart-wrenching news about the tragedy at Pulse. As the news came in, it quickly became apparent that not only had a man raised Muslim shot up an LGBT nightclub, but most of the victims were Latino. It was an intersectional tragedy, and America isn't all that great as a collective with dealing with situations and people that don't fit into black-and-white categories—Democrat or Republican, he or she, women's or men's room.

Face it, we're a binary nation, and one in which too many people plough straight into a tragedy looking to blame "the other," whomever that happens to be for the blamer. Donald Trump fired off one of the earliest shockers by mid-day on Sunday while bullet-filled bodies were still lying inside the Pulse building. He famously thanked his supporters for the "congrats" on being right about radical Islamic terrorists—offensive political self-congratulation. This is the man who thinks a "wall" will keep us safe, which is inaccurate on multiple levels. How, could a wall keep out (a) a Muslim from abroad or especially (b) one who is as American as Donald Trump is because he was born here?

But this isn't about bashing Donald Trump; he doesn't need my help making a buffoon out of himself of late, even questioning the Mexican heritage of a U.S. judge assigned to the Trump University case. (If you hadn't noticed: That is garden-variety bigotry and racism. He's made public hatefulness cool again for many. Argh.)

What I've thought a lot about since the tragedy is just how American it was. Sure, American because most nations with stronger gun laws don't have these kinds of routine shootings with semi-automatic guns not designed for hobbyist use (or by lone-wolf terrorists who hate the world and themselves). It's especially American because it was so intersectional, or melting pot, or perhaps "tossed salad," to use the phrase that denotes our nation's special mix of people who are trying to live together without melting together, and losing, their identities.

America is great precisely because we live together in diversity and varied beliefs. Many people came here to escape religious oppression; much of that oppression was Christian versus another type of Christian. Our Constitution was written to guarantee freedoms to people regardless of our beliefs, not because of them. (And, gradually, our civil-rights laws and court decisions have been moving those rights to all Americans, not just white men who first claimed them.)

The tragedy of Pulse, beyond the loss of precious life, was that it struck so many difficult chords. The shooter himself came from a fundamentalist upbringing where, it seems, his teachings were lacking at best, and he was probably forced to bury his own identity. Like too many angry, disenchanted young male Americans, from Dylann Roof to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, he grabbed hold to a fake type of fundamentalist faith and bigotry as at least an excuse for the blood and mayhem. He attacked a club full of happy people enjoying themselves, most of whom were Hispanic or Latino—another marginalized and disparaged group for too many in Trump's America.

He used a gun that should not be available at the local sporting-goods store, or be advertised in Sunday circulars. He said he was inspired by one of the most radical of today's terrorist groups, ISIS, whether he really was or not. He killed indiscriminately and went down trying to kill more people.

Then, of course, the hatred poured forth, culminating in that God-forsaken "God Hates Fag" group showing up at the various funerals, and shielded from view by theater folks wearing huge angel wings. The week really displayed the best and worst of America.

Because this is so complicated, as America is, there is no one and no easy answer. The most simple one is that "love conquers fear"—as the black rubber bracelet I bought from the Human Rights Campaign at Brooklyn Pride advises. Love. It's a simple word, but one that is hard to carry out. Real love is non-judgmental and filled with compassion and a desire to help and support. It is what the best, and more sincere, of all faiths not only espouse, but feel and follow.

And it's something that our binary nation has gotten too far away from in our rush to demonize "the other," left or right, as we saw in the primary season. The volume of hatred is way too high, and it will continue to result in death if we don't figure out how to turn it down together. Every Trump tweet about "the other," every time someone bashes a member of another group for no reason but the fact that they're group members, every time someone "likes" a nasty post, we add another log to the fire of hatred.

Not to mention, each cherrypicking of a "terrorist" with Muslim beliefs to tar an entire faith just helps increase the likelihood of another attack, by proving the radicals' theories right about Americans (who they will see back as one big group that hates them).

It's not easy, but we really must be getting to the nadir of how much public hate a supposedly "free" nation can stand. And here's the thing: It's not on someone else to fix it. It's on each of us. Every single one of us needs to reject the binary B.S., and tap into the love that whatever faith we embrace teaches, or just that inside our hearts, and spread light and love. Stop the stereotyping of "the other" because it is all false and ego-filled. There is nothing large about stooping to playing so small as to be a public and proud bigot spouting hate all the time.

We can shift America if we are willing to. The Pulse tragedy, like all the similar events before it, should be a bright-line moment, a tipping point. We must demand the sick, hateful politics of personal and group destruction stop and refuse to partake in them or vote for people who do.

We can decide right now in this moment to honor every person who has lost a life in all the hate and mayhem by deciding to do the million little (and larger) things to stop it. Love does conquer fear. So don't be afraid to play your own little part.

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