By Joshua Scott Chilton, Legal Assistant & Receptionist, Woodruff Family Law Group
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made a ruling in a case known as Obergefell v. Hodges which changed the definition of what marriage was in our country. Despite the arguments against it, it was no longer defined simply as the union between man and woman; it was now a union between any two people who wished to come together and love one another. As a gay man, I was overcome with pride and joy that people like me could now marry those they loved and experience what marriage had to offer, from the joy of a wedding to the drudgery of joint taxes and to the sorrow of a hospital.
However, despite the ruling, I knew that it was a close battle. It was a 5 to 4 vote, and that meant that the push for equality wasn’t over yet; there were and still are many in our country who believe that marriage should be between only a man and a woman rather than any definition other than what is viewed as “traditional”. There is still a struggle for those in the LGBTQA+ community outside of the realm of marriage as well; in our state of North Carolina, Governor McCrory was quick to issue a statewide ban on Transgender individuals entering restrooms or locker rooms they feel comfortable in after the Charlotte lawmakers approved city law to allow such.
The most recent attack on the LGBTQA+ community didn’t come from restrictive legislation, however. It didn’t come from politicians or protestors. It didn’t come in the form of a hateful hashtag on Twitter. It didn’t come from a county clerk refusing to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling. It came in the form of one man with an assault rifle…
The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida was founded in 2004 in memory of John Poma, a gay man who died of HIV in 1991, by his sister, Barbara Poma, & Ron Legler. Pulse promotes itself as a safe place for members of the LGBTQA+ community in Orlando to be who they are, and it has fought to raise awareness of HIV prevention and other terrible diseases like Breast Cancer. For years, it stayed true to this mission statement, becoming a popular weekend destination for many. Pulse even became a prominent place for Latinx members of the community in the area, celebrating the culture of Latinx Floridians.
However, tragedy struck the LGBTQA+ hotspot on June 12, 2016. In the early hours of the morning, a shooter armed with an assault rifle and a pistol, opened fire on the patrons. Before the police were able to arrive, he shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others before being shot and killed himself by the brave members of a SWAT team. This marked the largest mass shooting in United States modern history.
Many will blame his extremist views, but I would like to remind us that the attacker was born and raised in the United States. He wasn’t a foreign invader or insurgent; he was a domestic terrorist who had been told that members of the LGBTQA+ community were inferior, not only by foreign terrorists, but also by every county clerk who refused a marriage license to a same-sex couple, by every pastor who cited non-heterosexual relationships as abhorrent and deviant, by every hate group who picketed a soldier’s funeral for their sexual orientation, by every politician who fought against marriage equality, and by every news outlet that tried to pretend LGBTQA+ people did not exist. The assailant has since been described by his own father as homophobic, stating the young man became enraged by the sight of two men kissing.
This attack came two weeks before the one year anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, and also in what has been deemed by the LGBTAQ+ community, and by President Barack Obama, as Pride Month: a month when people of the LGBTQA+ community are supposed to be proud and celebrate who they are and love. I do not believe the timing of this attack to be a coincidence. Pulse wasn’t, and isn’t, just a place for us to feel safe and welcome. LGBTQA+ people are a minority who are not born into minority families; we have to find each other, and bars and clubs, like Pulse, are places we can be together… and one homophobic gunman tried to take that away from us; he tried to take away our safety and tried to strike a blow to our community. He struck a deep blow and many are in mourning. I am in mourning.
Regardless of why he may have committed the massacre, the one thing I know for certain, as I have seen it time and time again, is that foreign terrorists aren’t the only persons who have preached intolerance and hatred towards the LGBTQA+ community; many politicians, religious groups, celebrities, and every day citizens are quick to condemn non-heterosexual peoples just as quickly as foreign terrorists would. However, I have also seen something that gives me hope since the tragedy: a massive outpouring of support and love from around the globe from those in the LGBTQA+ community, in politics, from religious groups, celebrities, and from everyday citizens, all sending their support through donations and activism and blood, something members of the LGBTQA+ were denied to give after their own brothers and sisters were attacked because of some misguided FDA regulations created half a century ago: the same regulations which say if my own twin brother needs blood, I cannot give it to him because of who I am.
I have my opinions on each, but I’m not here to say anything of gun regulation or how to combat terrorism. I am not here to debate politics; I am here to remind everyone that LGBTQA+ people are people just like you. We have hopes and dreams and aspirations. We come in all different shapes and sizes and shades and genders. We grow, we learn, we love, we live… And over a hundred people either had all of that stolen from them or nearly lost it on June 12th. People lost friends and family; a couple, who were planning to marry each other, were killed that night because one man decided his disgust of their love was enough reason to end lives.
Though I write with a heavy heart and a troubled mind, I urge you not to despair. It is easy to become paralyzed by the shock and fear of such a tragedy, but to do so means to let terror win, and to do nothing means to accept it as the norm. Instead, I urge you to stand with one another, regardless of orientation, gender, sex, religion, color, creed, or origins. Reach out and understand each other. Our diversity isn’t something that should separate us; it’s something that should strengthen us. Let us build a nation where, truly, all men, women and anyone in between are created, and treated, equal.