When a bi-polar Islamic radical kills 50 people at a gay night club people frame the tragedy the way they want. Is it about terrorism or gun laws or do we need to have a conversation about mental health? It’s easy to forget that this was fundamentally a hate crime and over 100 people were hurt or killed in one of the few places they feel safe.
Living in New York City it’s easy to pretend that homophobia is a thing of the past. I spend most of my life surrounded by people who think like I do who don’t think twice when discovering someone’s sexual identity. But last night as I stood 100 yards from the Stonewall Inn I watched a queer latino man crying and screaming to his friend about being kicked out of his home by his parents. He came to the New York City as a homeless teenager and this was his place. This was where 20 years before he was born gay men fought back and started a civil rights movement that is still being fought and the Pulse nightclub attack is another reminder that we have a long way to go.
Last night there was a rally at the Stonewall Inn to mourn the victims of the Pulse nightclub attack. I heard about it a little too late and I got there about twenty minutes before it ended. People were giving speeches but I couldn’t really hear what they were saying as I moved closer to the stage. The crowd chanted over the amplified voices “Read their names! Read their names!” Finally someone came up and began reading the names and ages. The crowd was silent except for the word “Presente” after every name was read. People held up candles and lights on their phones and people started to cry. I put down my camera and just tried to hold it together. It was one of the most emotional things I have ever been a part of.
As the crowd began to disperse I walked around talking to people and taking photos. I made my way to the memorial in front of the Stonewall Inn to take photos but also to pay my respects. I hugged a lot of strangers and was getting ready to make my way home when I ran into a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who were showing solidarity with the LGBTQ community. They were loudly chanting and being followed by a few dozen NYPD members so I followed them.
As they marched a trans woman named Mariah Lopez from the Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform would speak about landmarks in the LGBTQ struggle. Someone referred to her as a revolutionary tour guide. When we got to the West Village Pier she spoke of Marsha P. Johnson a trans woman who’s body was pulled out of the Hudson after Pride Week in 1992. It was an incredibly emotional moment. There were some more words said by other activists and the names of the victims were read again and then everyone held hands and chanted. I put down my camera and held Mariah’s hand and just took part in the moment.
When I finally made my way back home I felt this crazy feeling of sadness and togetherness that I haven’t felt since probably September 12th, 2001 when I went to a vigil in DC after a plane crashed into the Pentagon a mile from my home at the time.
It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to bring strangers together like what I took part in last night. And with the Pulse nightclub attacks it’s even harder to feel that closeness with your fellow man. With so many different agendas it’s hard to see that almost everyone wants this shit to stop. We just disagree on how to make that happen.
So take a look at my photos and get off Twitter and Facebook for a second and go hug a stranger.
Click here to see my pictures from the Pulse nightclub rally at the Stonewall Inn.