4 years ago Orlando was changed forever… the LGBTQ community was hit right in the heart… 49 times…. 49 lives… 49 stories that ended that night. It was the night of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.
I was sleeping that night, peacefully in bed with my wonderful boyfriend. We woke the next morning to dozens of messages… we opened up social media and there it was. Every news station, every friend marking themselves safe, videos footage of flashing lights, crying crowds, parents desperately trying to find their children… there was emergency blood drives set up as Orlando didn’t have enough blood to help the wounded… how crazy a thought is that, not enough blood.
My heart was broken. I didn’t lose anyone that night, but I know people who lost friends and family… I have friends who were supposed to be there but for some reason… they decided to stay home. I held my friends, I held my boyfriend and we cried. We cried out of fear… out of hurt… out of sadness.
Orlando is a cultural melting pot, a transient city filled with people from every background… it’s what makes it great. But after that night… and the weekend following… Orlando showed it’s true colors. It said “We are Orlando Strong”, “we have one pulse”… that became the heartbeat of the city, love is love is love is love is love. Strangers hugged, vigils were held everywhere, people cried together, your race didn’t matter, your religion, your orientation… nothing mattered, we held each other.
Every year on the anniversary I remember the sadness i felt when i woke that morning and for days after… but then i remember how I started to see rainbow flags appear in store windows in the days following…displays listing the names of the ones lost, straight families walking around the parks with T-shirt’s supporting the LGBTQ community and Orlando… the clothing brands that released merchandise to raise money to help the survivors… that sadness turned into pride.
Pride for my community… pride in who we are as individuals. I became one of the rainbow wearing, rainbow flag owning, proud gay men. Why did I do that? What made me realize that being gay was something I should own? The simple answer, because 49, proud, loving, diverse people had their pride taken away from them… as well as the survivors who still suffer from PTSD from that night.
What brings us together… all of us… is that pulse, that heart beat… we all have one.
Feel your pulse. It means you are still here. You still matter, you still belong. Pride doesn’t end at LGBTQ, it includes pride in your heritage, being proud of your race, proud of the battles you overcame and the ones you are still pushing through. Never let anyone take away your pride. Someone tried to take that away from us that night… but we came back stronger.