My entire life has been populated by gay men. When I was eleven, I started taking voice lessons from a man who I will not name here. He ran the music program at my church and may be running a different program at a different church now. He pushed me forward for a solo in our Easter pageant and he told my parents that when I was ready, he wanted to give me voice lessons. I was born ready, so I went to his house with a little binder and a check from my mom. During our lesson, a man pulled up in the driveway and came around the back of the house. I asked my teacher who that was and he said, “That’s my roommate.”
I studied with my teacher for six years. He taught me to sing but he also taught me that people wanted to hear my voice. He was not alone, as it takes a village to raise the self-confidence of an awkward, chubby musical theater nerd, who seemed to run her straight male peers off just by being herself. This village was my sanctuary, the place where I felt safe. It wasn’t until long after the six years that I studied with this man that he ever introduced his roommate as his partner.
I am sad that the people who gave me refuge from a world that didn’t understand me did not and do not enjoy that same sense of safety. This fact was violently reaffirmed on Saturday night, June 11 at Pulse Night Club in Orlando. It was “Upscale Latin Saturday” and (mostly) Latino gay men came together to have fun in a space where they could feel protected. Omar Mateen walked in and opened fire on ninety-two of these men, fifty of whom are now dead.
Omar Mateen, who was on the FBI’s radar. Omar Mateen, who was so physically and mentally abusive to his wife that her parents flew to Florida to take her across the country after a year of marriage. Omar Mateen, who was a security guard and dreamed of being a police officer. Omar Mateen, who spoke openly of his hatred for gay people, black people, women, and Jews. Omar Mateen, who was allowed to purchase a long gun and a pistol “in the last week or two.”
Politicians and the media will paint Omar Mateen as a tool of ISIS and a Muslim extremist. He probably was. But please understand, Omar Mateen was distinctly American.
Here in America, we teach our men that they take what they want, if they are “real men.” We teach them that violence and guns are cool ways to solve problems. We teach them that women’s bodies and black bodies and really any bodies they don’t immediately identify with, are not as important as their own. We teach everyone that gay people and transgender people don’t deserve the same rights as the rest of us with our bathroom laws and our constant haranguing against marriage equality. We are a country built on the hatred of others and founded on violently destroying them. Even now, our leaders teach us that this violent person was an outsider because he was Muslim and that if we could eliminate Muslims from our country, this violence against American bodies would end. That if we can just get rid of one more kind of people, we will have peace.
Dylan Roof is not a Muslim. Robert Lewis Dear was not a Muslim. Aaron Alexis was not a Muslim. Brock Turner is not a Muslim. Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico, the police officers who suffocated Eric Garner, are not Muslims. George Zimmerman, Adam Lanza, Radcliffe Haughton, Wade Michael Page, James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner are not Muslims. These are people who believed their bodies, their rage, their power was more important than the bodies and the safety of their victims. They are not isolated incidents. They are so common, their names leave us numb.
Yes, this tragedy might never have happened if we had anything resembling gun control laws in this country. Please write to your elected representatives and let them know that you are tired of reading about American civilians executing each other in cold blood. Let them know that the Second Amendment doesn’t mean an assault rifle in every cabinet and a handgun in every pot. Here’s how: https://medium.com/@nicolesilverberg/it-s-on-us-too-an-easy-guide-to-contacting-your-elected-representatives-about-gun-control-2e2d8eb20e3f#.wjhhdp33h
But this tragedy is also about hate. If you’ve ever so much as said, “I don’t mind ‘em, but…” about a group of people based on sex, race, religion, or creed you are part of the problem. Sorry if that’s heavy-handed, it is true. If you’ve ever told your child about “certain types of girls” or said, “Gross” at two people of the same sex holding hands, you are part of the problem. If you’ve heard of a man who did not resist dying at the hands of two police officers and scoffed that they wouldn’t have done that if he weren’t “doing something wrong,” you are a part of the problem. Until we address the hate and fear in our country of everyone who is different than us, our sons will keep turning on each other as did our fathers before them.