I have spent the last couple of days really trying to figure out how to put into words my feelings about Orlando. So long I have not been super successful. Especially in a work environment where my real life quite centrist viewpoints seem VERY tree-hugging hippie liberal. So now I'm going to try here.
Several of my good friends from high school are gay, to include my best friend from high school. I knew from our senior year - I can't remember exactly when it was. Maybe middle of the year? He had gone to a different school for junior year when his family moved to another town, but had come back. We were going to a choir competition in that town, and several of his friends from that school were going to be there, and he felt that I (and a few others) needed to know because there was a story there. Not my story to tell, obviously, so I won't say anything beyond that.
I will tell you what I remember from that. (It was almost 20 years ago, so he may remember it differently, and I understand that.) It was the first time I had ever been in a situation where someone had come out to me. I had never really thought much about it before - this was 1997, people weren't super public, and there still a lot of stigma and fear around homosexuality in general. But I remember feeling special that he thought enough of me to share with me, to tell me his story and to trust me with it. We went to prom together that year, and I still love those pictures.
When I was a sophomore at the Naval Academy, I started dating a guy who was less than tolerant. I was a year and half into my time in the "military" (that's in quotes because as anyone who has been to a service academy will tell you, they're not really the military) and still pretty moldable when it came to how to think about things, and I let this guy really affect me. I said something to HSBFF about how if we got married, this guy wouldn't be comfortable with HSBFF's partner being there. I didn't know it at the time, but that comment ended up basically ruining our friendship.
I broke up with that guy a couple months before the end of my junior year, and was trying to get ahold of HSBFF because we had talked about my Ring Dance, and if I was single he was going to go with me. He wasn't answering my calls, wasn't replying to my emails. On 9/11, I called his parents to let them know I was OK. They asked if I'd talked to him. They had no idea that I hadn't heard from him in months at that point. I was devastated. I still had no idea.
Several years went by before I found out what had actually happened. I apologized profusely. I told him that I was not at all like that. That I had never meant to hurt him. That I would do anything to make it OK. We were myspace friends for a while. I found out that he had since married the previously mentioned partner, in Canada where it was legal long before it was here. I was truly happy for him. When facebook became a thing, we were friends at first, and I learned that his career was taking off and he and his partner were fostering children and things seemed to be going well for him. I thought maybe we were on the way to repairing.
And then he went dark.
It looked like he had deleted his facebook. Which happens. But then I heard that he hadn't and realized that he had actually blocked me. I was pretty upset, and even posted about it here a few times. I had pretty much accepted the fact that he was never going to be a part of my life again, and he was never going to truly forgive me.
A few months ago, he unblocked me. We've had some conversations since then, and he actually only lives a few hours from me now. He and his husband adopted four children, siblings, out of the system, which is amazing - there is a special place in heaven for people who choose to do that. Their hearts are huge. I hope that at some point in the future I can finally meet his family, and have him meet mine.
Why do I tell you this long story? I don't really know, other than it just hits close to home with Orlando. I've been to gay clubs with HSBFF and other friends. And all I could think about when I heard about this was it could have been any of us. Gay bars aren't just for gay people. They're safe places, for gay people, for groups of girls who just want to go out and dance, for people who otherwise just don't feel like they fit in. For anyone, really. They symbolize acceptance and non-judgementalness in a world that is often anything but. And literally, it's less than 100 miles from where I live.
This guy did more than just ruin the lives of the 49 people he killed and the 53 people he put in the hospital and the numerous others who got out but witnessed the whole things. Their families now have to deal with the results, whether that's saying good bye to a loved one or paying medical bills or dealing with PTSD. He took innocence from the children seeing this on the news, he chipped away further at the comfort of the many who, between San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Aurora, and the countless other mass shootings in recent history, have very little left.
Something has to be done. I don't know what that something is, and trying to compartmentalize the numerous issues that have arisen so far from this incident won't help. But something has to be done.
Please register to vote this year. Please do your research on more than just the Presidential candidates. If you want change, any change, in any direction, your state, local, and Congressional representatives will be able to do more for that than a President.