I kept asking myself why the Orlando Shooting affected me so much. It took me a few days, but I finally realized why.
When 9/11 happened, it really didn’t do much to me. I was in 6th grade and only 11 years old. It didn’t make sense to me, I couldn’t really understand it, and I had only been on a plane once before. Yet, adults all over the world were distraught. It was a terrible incident; it shook people to their core, and made everyone realize how fragile life was.
In my lifetime, this is the single biggest attack on the LGBTQ+ community. Maybe ten years ago it wouldn’t have affected me as much, or maybe even in high school when I wasn’t fully out. But being fully out — now — it hit so close to home. It reminded me of my mortality, that it could have been me that weekend with my friends at the club I was at. It reminded me that there was plenty of hate still directed at us. It reminded me I wasn’t in the comfortable bubble I thought I was. It reminded me I wasn’t fully safe.
I know I am considered privileged with my background, education, and growing up experience. But this incident showed me that my “privilege” still wouldn’t stop someone from targeting me for being gay. It was a humility-inducing experience, helping me realize what so many others have experience before, but I have for the most part escaped.
I’ve endured verbal and mental abuse, but not the physical. I’ve always made sure I lived in more progressive areas where I’d be accepted, or at least tolerated, as a gay man, and I never felt fear for my life. On a daily basis I don’t, and I thank the Lord for that everyday. However, the attack gave me a startling reminder that one day I could be targeted just for being gay, that no place is safe enough. It is a sad truth, but truth nonetheless.
Some who know me might think this would make me go into hiding. But in reality, I’m more proud now than ever to identify as LGBTQ+. While I may have tip-toed around the issue before and played it careful in certain arenas, do not expect that anymore. My flag is high, my make up is on, my stilettos strapped up, and you will know that I am me. And you won’t be able to keep me silent. For many of us, this is now more true than ever. We won’t be silent. We won’t hide. Now is the time for us to be even more visible, more “out and proud.”
And to all our straight friends, I want to encourage you: do not stay silent. Do not stand on neutral ground. Grieve with us as we grieve the lives lost in Orlando. Be furious about the hate crime that targeted LGBTQ+ and Latinx people. Change the way you speak about LGBTQ+, stand up for us, and stand with us. Let people know that what happened is wrong, and you also will not stand for it in the future. Text, call, hug an LGBTQ+ person. We need it more than you will ever know right now.
MATTHEW DAVID HAYS is a budding writer, currently living in Michigan. Matt loves to stay active and keep his mind engaged. You can usually find him at the local yoga studio or at happy hour.