Standing in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate this past June, I saw it illuminated for the first time in the colors of the rainbow flag. I, along with hundreds of #LGBT people and allies were there to unite, reflect and mourn the death of 49 LGBT/#queer people who had been killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was a shooting which fired a gun at every right, every freedom and every protection myself and the community relies upon to keep us safe — protections which we have fought for through decades of work. It was the most deadly attack in US history, and it was aimed at us.
On June 12, Omar Mateen walked into the packed Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando and opened fire. The club was hosting a Latin night, and the victims were primarily Hispanic. As the scale of the tragedy came to light, the Orlando shooting sent shockwaves through the community and around the world. It left 49 dead and a further 53 wounded.
World leaders, celebrities, activists and politicians shared their condolences to those affected in the proceeding days, and the hashtag #PrayForOrlando trended worldwide:
“I condemn with horror the killing that has caused at least 50 dead in Florida. I express France’s full support to the American people.”
The outpouring of love which followed was representative of the pain. During a vigil held at NYC's iconic Stonewall Inn, one mourner was asked how he felt, and his response was something every queer-identifying person can relate to:
"Because it could've been me. That night at a gay club during Pride in Florida, that could've been me a million times over. A lot of people talk a lot about rhetoric and at this point, I don't care about the rhetoric. There's 50 people that are dead, there's 50 mothers without a son or daughter. It could've easily been me." - Carlos
I was 18 when I went to Florida for the first time. I stayed with a family friend in Tampa Bay, and found myself one night (much by chance) in Tampa's gay-friendly Ybor City neighborhood, with three friends I had made the previous evening. This was 2008, I had come out as a lesbian the previous year, but was still figuring out who I was, what I wanted to be, and how I fit into this diverse and vibrant community. That night, despite being in such an unfamiliar place, I felt welcome and I felt safe.
Since then I have been to countless queer-friendly bars, and been lucky enough to live in London, the US and Germany. Standing in front of Brandenburg Gate this past summer, I thought back to that night in particular. I thought of those friends who I have lost touch with over the years. I wondered if they were safe, and how they were feeling. Carlos was right: it could have been any of us.
Vigils were held around the world — in Sydney, London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Mumbai, Hong Kong... the list goes on. For the first time in a long time, global communities were united in condemning a ferocious hate crime — regardless of religion, belief or background. The City of Orlando has since bought the nightclub, and plans to turn it into a memorial for the victims.
Let's not sugarcoat it: 2016 has been a difficult year, and there are countless articles online detailing every terrible action, election, death and referendum of the last 12 months — but there have been some rare moments of positivity and progress which have not been quite so well covered in the media. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and since then hundreds of thousands of couples have tied the knot. Oregon just elected Kate Brown as their first openly LGBT Governor, and Jackie Biskupski became the first openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City — the headquarters of the Mormon church. Several states, such as New York and Vermont, have moved to ban gay conversion therapy, and in June President Obama dedicated the new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village as the first U.S. National Monument to honor the LGBT rights movement.
LGBT icon Ellen Degeneres was also awarded a Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — for her lifetime of activism and positive representation.
While TV was burying its gays, the CW's DC universe was spearheading the way forward with excellent representation. Supergirl experienced a quiet revolution when fan-favorite Alex came out, and Legends of Tomorrow's Sarah Lance is still running around time stealing all the girls. Game of Thrones and Wynonna Earp introduced more badass queer women, while Amazon's Transparent is continuing to put trans issues front and centre. Lexa's death on The 100 launched a campaign which has raised over $160,000 for The Trevor Project, and has sparked a movement for better representation across all media platforms.
Notable figures such as Kristin Stewart, Lilly Wachowski, Colton Haynes and even Wonder Woman came out and kept the conversation going, while Holland Taylor and Sarah Paulson continued to show us what real love was. Hollywood, on the other hand, lacked diversity across the board, but indies such as First Girl I Loved, The Intervention and Other People bucked the trend with honesty and sensitivity.
Further progress was made around the world, too. Same-sex marriage became legal in Greenland, Colombia, and the Mexican states of Jalisco and Campeche, and same-sex activity was decriminalized in Belize and the Seychelles. Furthermore, the Indian Supreme Court has started to take steps to reevaluate their archaic laws surrounding homosexual activity, and British Education Secretary Justine Greening became the first out cabinet minister in the UK. Northern Ireland also lifted its lifelong ban on gay men donating blood. While these events might feel dwarfed by the amount of negativity of the past year, they are significant and positively effect the daily lives of thousands of diverse individuals.
I too feel the hurt, anger and pain of the last 12 months — not just for the LGBT community, but for women, Muslims, POC, and everyone else who's felt alienated by the slew of ignorance and hate that seems to be dominating the zeitgeist. I know how easy it is to feel helpless, to feel like an island, but if Orlando can teach us anything, it's that we are not an island — there are millions just like you, who are just as incensed with the status quo. I feel just like you.
If there was ever a time to be involved socially and politically, it is now. All those people who stood up for Orlando around the world need to stand up for those who are voiceless now. We represent something bigger than one senseless act of hate — we represent a better future — even if it looks pretty bleak from where we're standing. The world has never been more divided, and if we can unite for something terrible, we can unite for something good.
This article was created as part of the Creators.co fanzine, We Will Make It Better: Stories Of Hope For The Future Of LGBT