Numbers. Figures. Words. Names. Names who were brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, these names were people; people who were massacred in the worst ever homophobic attack since the holocaust.
As the realisation that this atrocity actually happened, today in 2016, and not decades ago actually sinks in, the thoughts that flew through my head were that of confusion, loss, frustration and anger. I wanted to write my thoughts down and publish them as I had so much to say and yet I had so little to say at the same time. What do you say? What can you say? There are no words than can fully justify the immense atrocity that has just happened to our LGBTI brother and sisters.
The attack in Orlando has left me in so much confusion with so much emotion, so much frustration, so much grief mixed with anger and sadness. So many questions run through my head; how in 2016 America, the land of the free, can an armed gun man walk into a gay bar and slaughter so many of our LGBTI Family? Why has America yet to still revise its policies on gun control? How many more people need to die in schools? How many more people need to die in cinemas? How many more people need to die in gay bars until these gun control policies are revised?
The gay bars are our safe places, these are the places for us to feel at ease, for us to hold the hands of the ones we love, for us to hold the ones we love in our arms and for us to feel like we ‘fit in’. We don’t all necessarily feel comfortable showing affection to our partners on the streets, even in 2016 we fear assault, persecution and violence. How, in 2016 can one of our safe spaces, one of our gay bars, one of our sanctuaries become such a house of horror and a scene of carnage? How can our safe place become the scene of the worst massacre gun shooting in American history?
Over the past few days, arguments and debates have flown to and fro between politicians and citizens? Calls for guns in America to be banned have been brought forth, yet again. When the American constitution was written ‘the right to bare arms’ meant taking ten minutes to load a musket with one shot to ward off bandits from trespassing on your land, and here we are in 2016 where ‘the right to bare arms’ means you can possess a powerful machine which shoots more than 60 bullets per minute. These are powerful death machines that can be wielded and used by the everyday American who could use these weapons to yes, ward off bandits from their land, protect themselves from harm or open fire in a crowded gay night club in Orlando. How many more people need to die until times change? 8 more people? 19 more people? 100 more people? 1000? How many more people need to die until these death machines are put to rest?
I cannot begin to imagine what those families left behind must be going through; those mothers who are grieving the loss of their children, those siblings who have been left behind, those partners who have lost their soul mates. How do you even begin to imagine their grief?
In Newcastle, in the United Kingdom, a vigil was held and I, as Mr Gay World was invited to speak on behalf of the LGBTI Community and lead off the prayers to Orlando. As a Mr Gay, there are many times you have to speak on behalf of the LGBTI Community, and this by far was the hardest job I have ever had to undertake. As I stood there and read out the names and ages of those souls who have gone, it hits you harder than the first time you read the news; eighteen years old, gone; nineteen years old, gone; thirty three years old, gone. Lost. Massacred.
Looking out at the crowd, reading the names, I felt the grief of all of our LGBTI Community. I felt the anger. I felt the frustration. But in the atrocities of all that has happened, I also felt the love. The love of a community that can come together in less than a day and hold hands with the stranger next to them who they have never met, the community who can stand tall and not be oppressed, the community who are out and the community who are proud.
Our Newcastle vigil was organised in less than 24 hours and in front of me was over a thousand LGBTI brothers and sisters, straight allies and children; one thousand people standing strong, one thousand people standing out and standing proud in unity in the face of evil. You might kick us in the balls, you might attack us in schools, you might beat us in the street but you will not beat us. We are here. We are a voice. We are gay and we are going nowhere.
Out of such an horrific attack in Orlando, this evil, which tried to silence us will not succeeded and instead, in its place this evil has aroused an awakening, a sense of strength in community and numbers; this atrocity has stirred something in us that every member of the LGBTI community across the world has felt. We are stronger in numbers. We are strong together. We are Orlando.