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On June 12, 2016, the worst mass-shooting in the United States took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Immediately any mention of “Orlando” or “Pulse” became a somber one in queer communities. I’m writing from almost a year later and it seems like everyone has moved on. The media certainly has, and, for the most part, the queer community appears to have as well. We’ve put it behind us, because we have to. We have to keep moving, to keep living, because to let this tragedy consume our community would be to silence to ourselves.
It is June 2017 and I am still grieving. It comes and goes, but it is undeniably there. I am from the west coast of Canada: I didn’t know any of the people at the Pulse night club that night. I don’t even know anybody who was in the state of Florida that day. So why am I still thinking about these 49 strangers who died four months ago?
I woke up on the Sunday morning after the shooting, and the first thing I did, as usual, was begin scrolling through my tumblr feed before getting out of bed. The only thing on my dashboard was news of Orlando: people’s reactions to it, and people reaching out offering support and love. I cannot begin to describe the fear that gripped me as I thought of all my friends living in the United States, of the fact that things like this happen and what if they’re next? I have never felt so simultaneously terrified of the world, and loved by it. The community, both online and off, rallied to pull each other through this horrific tragedy. Everybody looked to their loved ones for a reassurance that they were okay: that not only had they not been physically affected by the events of the night before, but that they were surviving mentally as well.
That Monday I had to go to school as though nothing had changed, as though I hadn't just had my world turned upside down, because there is no space for community grief in our society. After my father, a man I rarely saw more than twice a month, died I was encouraged to take the week off of school to grieve, but on the day I was grieving the loss of 49 siblings and of my feeling of safety in queer spaces, I was forced to go to school. That entire day was like something I’d never felt before. It felt like the entire world was just a bit muted; everything a bit fuzzy. It wasn’t just grief. It felt like my world had changed.
The Pulse shooting showed a generation of queer youth what the world is really like. This is the first tragedy we’ve experienced, the first time we’ve collectively seen that there are people who want us to die enough to take it into their own hands. This was the first time that we were shown that the spaces we created for ourselves were not safe. The shooting was not just an attack on a single nightclub, it was an attack on the entire queer community. It showed us the largescale hate and violence that many of us had only ever read about, or been told about by older members of our community. It showed us something that we thought was over - something we thought that our elders had fought through and protected us from. It was a reminder that while, almost exactly a year before, we had won the victory of same-sex marriage in the United States, our fight was not, and will never be over. There was a year of collective celebration and pride, and then we were forced back into reality.
June is Pride month. It is supposed to be our time to wear our flags loudly and proudly, to love each other, and to let ourselves be unafraid, even for a little while, but this tragedy shook the community to the core. I remember reading the discussions about whether or not the Pride Parades scheduled for that Sunday and the weekend after should be cancelled. I remember people making posts about how to stay safe at parades, and how to set up emergency contacts in case anything happened. I remember being terrified on the days of each major parade that followed; being terrified for the people in attendance, and for the community because I don’t know if we could have taken another tragedy.
One of the high schools in my school district held a queer prom on June 20. You had to sign up through your GSA in advance to go, provide ID to prove you were a student of a school in the district, and provide emergency contact information on the sign up sheet. A high school dance was preparing for some sort of tragedy. I didn’t go. Partly because it was the night after my prom, and I was at Dry Grad until 4am the night before, but mostly because I was afraid. I was afraid that an event like that put a target on itself. I was afraid that a gathering of queer teenagers celebrating themselves could anger somebody enough to kill them. I was terrified for my friends who did go. I didn’t sleep until they were home safely that night.
I think that the Orlando shooting will hang like a spectre over this generation of queer people. We will always remember that feeling of waking up on Sunday morning and finding out that 49 of our siblings were dead in a space that was supposed to be safe.
I will always remember that that was the first year I went to a Pride parade. Last July I walked in the Vancouver Pride Parade, and it was magical. It was the highlight of my summer before university. At the parade there were people who walked, carrying the name and face of a Pulse victim. I can’t say what they looked like or how prominently they were featured in the actual parade, but as we walked through the gates to begin walking on the parade route they stood in a line on either side of the gate so you had to walk past each and every one of them. It was a sobering moment, and one I’ll never forget. It was a reminder that we would never have a parade without the ones who died for it.
I am not “over” Orlando because if we don’t remember the people who die for being themselves; for being the same as us, there stops being a need for Pride. Pride isn’t just a party. It is a celebration of those who came before us, of those who died for us, and of those of us who are still living to remember them, and to not let them have died in vain. It is a celebration of the fact that we continue to survive and that we continue to thrive.