Their faces smiled at us from the front page of the New York Times. On Monday evening their names resonated in the cool air as Lady Gaga opened the litany of the names of the Orlando martyrs. She seemed to savor every syllable, as if we could somehow pull something of the essence of each individual by hearing their name.
John Perez, the first openly gay Speaker of the State Assembly, picked up the honor roll and was followed by out L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin. The ancient incantation that speaking the name of the dead makes them live again seemed hollow, inadequate. All I could think of was that 49 lives were cut short. For my generation, the list of names was painfully reminiscent of the 1980s when we seemed helpless as so many we loved died. But back then, the list was never ending. It was hard to think that the Orlando victims, most of them half my age, some almost children, would not experience the fullest of life that we so often take for granted.
I was riding my bike down Santa Monica Boulevard early Sunday morning, enjoying the pre-Parade hustle and bustle, oblivious to the tragedy. I then heard Nir Zilberman, a local advocate for homeless gay youth, loudly denouncing CSW officials, Sheriff’s deputies and ordinary parade participants that today was a day of mourning not a day of celebration. It was Nir that told me of the massacre in Orlando.
While I tried to calm him, others came over to join the debate. A couple of people from GLEAN, the gay Anglican Church organization, came over and asked if we would join their service. Nir and I both found solace in the service.
But Nir had a point. It was hard to mourn given the day’s festivities; trying to reconcile the two was schizophrenic and disorienting. I partook of the guilty pleasures of the parade, with its taut bodies and absurd social commentary, which made it impossible to focus on the tragedy in Orlando. Although there were more folks than usual gawking at the anti-gay “Christian” petting zoo at La Cienega, it seemed that the events in Orlando had not fully sunk into our consciousness. During the parade I gave in to the mo
ment figuring that Sunday night would be full of videoa of bloodied victims, hysterical friends and parents and political posturing. Reality would sink in soon enough.
On Monday evening at Los Angeles City Hall, I joined friends and strangers, with people who I admire, even love, in both mourning and celebration. The ritual, while delayed, was empowering.
As the days have gone by we have heard tales of heroism and determination from people who never thought they would be heroes. So many people that personified Pride. The nation and the world have joined us in mourning and in a determination, not just to avenge their deaths, but to bring some good from the carnage.
Despite the inspiration this tragedy has engendered from people across the class, ethnic and religious lines, the reaction was marred almost from the start by the cynics and people of ill will.
After some perfunctory alligator tears for the victims, Republican presidential designee Donald Trump did not waste any time cashing in on the horror and wavinf the bloody shirt of the Orlando 49 to berate President Obama. The head of the national Republican Party blamed this sort of Islamic terrorism on President Obama’s “premature’ withdrawal from Iraq; it couldn’t possibly be linked to the ill-advised invasion launched by George W. Bush. The bodies were not yet cold, the blood not wiped from the floor, the tears still flowed, before hate and the cynicism rose its ugly head.
The Republican lieutenant governor of Texas tweeted on that Sunday afternoon a quote from the New Testament book of Galatians, “that man shall reap what he has sown,” in his gleeful response to the Orlando massacre. A Baptist preacher outside of Sacramento bemoaned the fact that more of us were not slaughtered. The only scripture that seems appropriate to respond to this perversion of the gospel is a quote from the Book of John: “Jesus wept.”
Republicans seem more intent on scoring easy political points rather than treating our dead with the respect that has been accorded the victims of every other national tragedy. Our deaths are just convenient vehicles to score political points.
They celebrate that the perpetrator conveniently pledged his allegiance to Islamic State in a mid-massacre call to 911. He could have just as easily have called to proclaim his fidelity to the Ted Cruz/Christian jihadist wing of the Republican Party, where his homophobia would be equally welcomed.
But somehow I sense that out of this tragedy, there is a fundamental change in how we as LBGTQ people are now being viewed by the American mainstream. An attack on one is an attack on all, and having been targeted for being who we are, suddenly and illogically transforms us from being marginalized to being viewed as part of the family. This is a high price to pay for acceptance, but somehow this seems like one of those transformative moments reminiscent of the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed the four little girls during the 1960’s civil rights struggle. In that tragedy Americans saw beyond race; they saw four mangled bodies of innocent children. Perhaps Orlando is the moment when America will see beyond our “otherness”.
I would call upon the City Council to honor our dead. For next year’s Pride, the anniversary of the Orlando massacre, we should have street banners featuring the faces of every martyr along Santa Monica Boulevard. It is important that we celebrate their lives; it is appropriate that we commemorate their deaths. We need to show the world we will not forget them and that we love them. It is a small gesture, perhaps an inadequate one, but it is a reminder we will not let their sacrifice be in vain.