Archive | August, 2016

A Reflection on the Pulse Massacre: Sunday, June 12, 2016

9 Aug

Pulse ribbon  June 12 2016“WHAT IT FEELS LIKE AS AN ALLY OF THE GAY COMMUNITY IN ORLANDO”

(written for the Westminster Towers Retirement Community where I live, just a mile down the street from the Pulse nightclub)

It’s like the huge bullets and the force of the automatic firing and the rapid volume of the cutting-into-flesh rounds were the forceful culmination of decades of violence toward gay and Latino people. The gunshots accentuated and exacerbated the hatred.

The emotions begin with grief, pain and fear.

GRIEF for the shattering of beautiful young lives and their families.

PAIN because of the decades of hatred and the personal hurt and shame that have been heaped upon gentle loving people, just because of their loving relationships.

FEAR because of the threat that hatred can still come after you, the hatred you have known before and the sad and awful memory that is palpable.

What ameliorates these negative emotions is what has been happening in Orlando in the days and weeks following June 12th.  Love, unity, and solidarity.

Expressions of LOVE have poured into Orlando from all over the world.  The Orlando Gay Chorus received many videos from gay and lesbian choruses who recorded songs of love and support for us and for Orlando.  We have seen the rainbow colors displayed from the Dr Phillips Performing Arts Center that we can see from our Westminster windows to the Eiffel Tower in France and on buildings around the world.

Orlando has stood UNITED in this sadness.  Gay and straight, Latino and Anglo, black and white, young and old, Muslim and Christian, emergency workers and health personnel and government officials, spiritual leaders and community service groups, music and arts organizations and business people.

Community-wide prayer services were held on Tuesday evening at two downtown churches, Methodist and Baptist, and a Muslim Imam was the first speaker at the DPAC vigil the night before.  Driving down South Orange Avenue, the signs and banners are displayed everywhere…Orlando United, Orlando Strong, Pray for Orlando.

SOLIDARITY.  We are not alone. We are remembered.  Millions of dollars have poured in to the Orlando One Fund and the GoFundMe established by Equality Florida for victims and their families. Orlandans stood in line for eight hours in the heat of that Sunday to give blood for the victims.  Vigils and prayer services began the very day of the shootings on Sunday afternoon at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church where our OGC chorus was asked to sing, the first of 20 memorials at which we sang before we headed to Denver July 2-6 for the GALA Festival of Choruses from around North America and as far away as Beijing, China.  We sang at Orlando Soccer and Orlando Predator games and NASA and UCF and TV and fundraiser events.  We joined 70 Orlando arts organizations for an amazing fundraising concert in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr Phillips led by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

The evening following the massacre, five to six thousand people gathered between City Hall and the DPAC, where our OGC singing began and ended the candlelight vigil.  I will never forget the hush that came over this huge crowd when the candlelighting began and the bell tolled 49 times as the names of the victims were read.  A man beside me collapsed into tears on hearing one of the names and his friends held him up and comforted him.  People beside me shed tears in the light of their candles.

I have young friends who were there that Saturday night at the Pulse for a birthday party.  Thank God they left before the mass shooting began at 2:00 am Sunday morning.  Many of my friends, as well as people who work at our home, Westminster Towers, knew some of the victims of that horrendous massacre.  Many of them have been there to enjoy a time of fun and music and dancing at a club where it was safe and friendly for members of the gay community and their straight friends alike.

Singing with the Orlando Gay Chorus has been a marvelous experience for me, an elderly straight Presbyterian woman minister who needs to be seated while most of the chorus members stand for our performances.  My LGBTQ friends are some of the most gentle, loving and kind people I know.  I have just returned from singing with hundreds of choruses at the GALA Festival of Choruses in Denver, where the outpouring of love for Orlando and the Orlando Gay Chorus was demonstrated every day we were there.  They understand the pain and sorrow that gay and trans people experience from hatred.  They sing because making beautiful music is a way of bringing love and joy into a world in the hope that hearts and minds can be changed by song.

I have seen the power of love and solidarity that has been bringing healing for the terrible pain and grief my gay friends have been experiencing.

Peggy Howland