Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when a tragic event happens. Most people remember who they were with and the reactions that unfolded. I would’ve never thought that during the Orlando shooting, I would be at the Gloria Steinem Membership conference in Washington, D.C.
This conference is organized by Unite for Reproductive Rights and Gender Equity (URGE) and I was there with my friend representing the Cleveland State University Chapter. The beginning of the weekend was filled with enlightenment and positive stimulation. I got a chance to meet a lot of people from different places and brainstorm and plan ways we can move forward with the fight towards reproductive justice. I knew this conference would change me in a lot of ways, but I didn’t truly know how until Sunday, when we all heard about the shooting.We were all in that space that weekend planning, organizing and learning to help fight injustices, and then we got a harsh, tragic reminder that very weekend that our work is far from done.
A couple days before the attack, one of the things we learned at the conference is that we need to “listen to learn and not to reply” in order for us to help be better activists. I couldn’t help thinking this when the entire situation was unfolding. It taught me that keeping a discussion going and steering it in the right direction means lot. It taught me that there are experiences that I can’t even imagine happening to groups of people who don’t deserve it. It taught me that our reactions matter, especially during times like this.
When senseless and sporadic acts like this occur, it’s so easy to feel utterly helpless. It’s easy to feel that there is nothing much you can do but try and feel as much empathy toward those affected, and the people who feel that their identities are under attack today. As a cisgender, white woman, I knew I couldn’t imagine the fear and pain that the queer folk around me were feeling. But I knew there was still a lot I could do, and the best way I felt useful was by being with URGE that day.
We all brought together what energy we had left and accompanied other people and organizations at a vigil in front of the White House.
The energy at the White House was both heartbreaking and inspiring. As we arrived there was already a group of people — mostly D.C. natives — gathered around candles and flowers and speaking monologues into a microphone. As the night went on, more and more people stepped up to tell their stories, to express their grief, and to make statements.
One URGE member from Bowling Green State University, Morgan Gale, went up to the front and boldly talked about how everyone there was brave enough to come to the vigil and other Pride events.
Megan Carter from Ohio University (pictured above)
“To be out here tonight, when our lives are at stake, just for existing…” Gale said.Many other people spoke that day — people from different backgrounds and places. A young man named John from Wisconsin came up to the front of the crowd and said,
“The first place that I found people like me [...] was at the local gay dance club.”
“Those spaces, for our people are sacred […] and they can take our lives but they will never take our pride.”
The most heartwarming thing that almost every speaker said was that they urged people to not fall into ignorance during this time of chaos. We had already seen on the news that day the pundits and the speculations about the shooter being Muslim, his possible connection to ISIS. The climax of all this hateful rhetoric was eventually Trump’s statement, who said that this is more of a reason to ban muslims from the U.S., if he becomes president. It seemed that everyone at the vigil that night understood that fighting this problem of hate with more hate will do no justice and no help.
The intersection of the issues of homophobia and Islamophobia reflected through the Orlando shooting just adds more anguish to this entire event. A murderous hate crime is now being twisted to spread more injustice to another group, and this only supports the ideals of the shooters themselves. It is the most conniving thing that we as a society can do when reacting to these events
Please, do not just look at this event through one lens. Look at these events through the eyes of people different from you, instead of assuming and accusing. As a white cis woman who wants to be an ally, I need to recognize these people's experiences and help amplify their voices. This is the only way we will be able to steer these stories in the right direction.
In our lives today it is so easy to make assumptions based on the barrage of information that the mass media pummels us with. People have every right to be angry and confused. But we should never let this fear spiral into chaos and ignorance.