Though different in many ways, the victims of the Orlando shooting had one thing in common: They were simply trying to be who they were, live their lives and enjoy the evening in what they thought was a safe space. The horrific events that followed mark not just the worst mass shooting in our nation’s modern history, but one of the worst attacks carried out against the LGBT community in the United States.
Pulse in Orlando and other gay nightclubs across the country have played a major role in the lives of many LGBT members. They give people confidence and a sense of solidarity, and they allow them to feel like they can be their true selves, hold hands with their partners and see their friends without any sense of shame. For the LGBT community, places like this aren’t common.
Besides its chosen location, this event that struck our nation was particularly troubling because it reminded many of us of a time we had hoped to forget. Six months after I came out at the age of 16, a young man named Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die by his attackers – simply for being gay. As a young gay man, I was terrified.
Eighteen years later, I can acknowledge that things have gotten a lot better. Though we still face adversity and discrimination through acts like House Bill 2, it is an easier world for young LGBT people to be themselves. Sunday, however, was a stark reminder that gay, lesbian and transgender people can still be the victims of hatred so extreme that it results in the ultimate act of violence.
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A sense of resilience
What kept me going after Matthew was killed was the support of the LGBT community and its resiliency and ability to stand against fear and hatred. I pray that young LGBT people feel the same love and sense of resilience in the wake of this tragedy that I did back in 1998. And this is why, through Equality North Carolina and my seat in the N.C. General Assembly, I stand ready to do anything I can to help the people of Orlando in a time of crisis.
At the General Assembly, I’ve asked my fellow lawmakers not only for their thoughts and prayers but also for their active solidarity with the LGBT community. Lawmakers claim to argue that fighting homophobia and standing for love are not Republican or Democratic ideas, and they now have a chance to prove it. I hope they take advantage of this opportunity and stand strong in favor of the LGBT community and against incidents like this one.
I praise Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker for attending an event in Greensboro hosted by the local LGBT foundation and offering his words of solidarity. We need more of that, though, and we need more allies than ever standing with the LGBT community. It is time to fight for protections for all people and to put an end to efforts that perpetuate discrimination and increase the risk of harassment and violence.
The only way we will end hatred, homophobia and this kind of horrific violence is if we stand together to fight discrimination in all its forms.
Chris Sgro is executive director of Equality North Carolina and the only openly gay member of the N.C. General Assembly. He will be sending a North Carolina flag to the LGBT Center in Orlando that was flown over the State Capitol in honor of the LGBT community in Orlando.