Orlando Strong

The last several days have been a lesson in contrasts. I’ve spent much of my time enjoying a small slice of paradise overlooking the Mediterranean in Xàbia, Spain. I’ve shared numerous delicious meals with my friends. We’ve laughed and goofed off around the pool. We’ve watched as the sun has set and the stars revealed themselves to this corner of the world. It has been an amazing week.

And yet despite the serenity and breathtaking beauty around me, I am haunted by some incredibly dark thoughts. I find myself uncomfortably sitting here trying to understand the impossible-to-understand, trying to comprehend the reprehensible event that took the lives of so many at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I’ve spent much of the week reading updates and news in shock and disbelief, sometimes close to tears, sometimes so angry I could feel my heart throbbing like a drum in my ears.

I can’t help but think about the victims – those lost and those who survived – who likely had no more pressing concerns for the evening than when they might meet their friends. I assume they did what any person might do when they go to the club with friends. They danced. They laughed. They had some drinks. They shouted at the top of their lungs when their song came on. They enjoyed their lives because they assumed they were in a safe place, a sanctuary where they could be who they were without fear of reprisal or harm.

And all of this was obliterated in an instance. Forty-nine people murdered. Fifty-three others shot. Countless others forever connected to and changed by the acts of one man. And why? If we are to believe the words of the shooter’s father, it’s all because one man was disgusted by the sight of two men kissing.

Let that sink in.

Two men kissing.

How does this make any sense? How does a kiss warrant the murder and attempted murder of 102 people?

I honestly don’t know how to respond to this. Anger at the man who did this? Heartbreak at the lives lost? Despair for those other lives that have been irreparably changed? Intense sadness that this sort of thing continues to happen?

Do I blame one man? Or do I look at the broader situation and point the finger at everyone – myself included – who fail to protect those in our community who have been marginalized, dehumanized, and scape-goated? It’s all a little too much to process. It’s all a little too close to home. And it’s all too much of the same tired thing on repeat.

I’d like to believe that this won’t change me. But even before this happened, and despite the community and country in which I live, I found myself checking my surroundings, hesitating to do the simplest thing that a couple might do in public. A simple glance. Holding hands. Arm over a shoulder. Arm around a waist. Leaning in for a kiss. All simple everyday acts that shouldn’t be acts of defiance, but they are and will continue to be. All simple everyday acts that shouldn’t ever lead to violence, but they can and they do. Will I hesitate longer because of this? Will I avoid situations like this altogether? Should I now be worried about the safety of my friends who choose to accept me and support me without question?

All of these questions have been bouncing around my head along with memories of situations that I’ve had to deal with in my past because someone or some group was disgusted by my existence, because someone or some group believed that I was somehow subhuman or inhuman, or because someone or some group mistakenly believed that their god had mandated hate and violence. All exactly the same sort of beliefs and attitudes that led to the slaughter of 49 innocent men and women at Pulse nightclub earlier this week.

In the past all of these fears and the uncertainties associated with them would bubble to the surface, making me feel less than, leading me to question whether or not there was something inherently wrong with me. Now it just makes me angry. Very intensely angry.

But anger on its own is not enough. And despite their ability to help people process horrible things, platitudes of thoughts and prayers are also not enough. Not nearly enough. This must finally be the wake-up call that many of the other tragedies of the recent past should have been. This must be the last straw that finally brings about real change. We must move to action. We must fight to make the world a better place.

We need to match our good intentions and hopes for a better world with tangible and measurable action. We need to actually start treating people with the respect and dignity they inherently deserve. We need to recognize and celebrate our differences, while also recognizing that we are far more similar than most of us care to admit.

I’m not suggesting that we need to drop everything to raise money or start an organization. I simply mean that we need to get off our asses and work to make our communities the best they can be. We must have the courage to speak up when we see people being mistreated. We must actively work to help those in our community who can’t help themselves. And we need to start living up to the potential that each of us has.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to bury people and hang our heads in silence and wonder how could this happen again? It’s up to us to change things. It’s up to each and every one of us.

For now, I’m going to begin by writing something on this blog that I’ve never written before because of a sense of duty and because I never thought it necessary. But I know now that I can’t continue to live only partially open. My silence is as much to blame for tragedies like this as the hate speech disguised as god’s word.

I am gay, and I am damn proud of the man I am, and I promise that I will no longer be silent.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Kristy Barton says:

    Dan you are a remarkable human. You are everything we all should be more of: witty, intelligent, kind, honest, generous and so much more.
    This post was beautifully written. I, along with I’m sure every person who has had the privilege to know you, stand with you.

    1. dangillis says:

      Thanks Kristy 🙂

  2. This is so powerful. Thank you for sharing. You are a phenomenal person and I am proud to know you. Stay strong my friend 🙂

    1. dangillis says:

      Thanks. I’m hoping I’ll get to see you nerds later in the summer after I return from Malawi and Labrador. 🙂

  3. Beth says:

    This is a beautiful post. You are an amazing man, Dr. Dan, and I’m honoured to have you as one of my closest friends. Like Kristy, I stand with you and will seek ways to make this world a better place too.

    1. dangillis says:

      Thanks Dr. Beth.

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t know you, but I love you all the same. Thanks so much for sharing. We’re in this together. Me 👭 and you 👬.

    1. dangillis says:

      Right back at you! Hopefully our paths will cross in the future. Also, I think I need to up my emoji game. 😉

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