In 1969, there were very few places where gays and lesbians felt they could gather safely. “Coming out” brought pain to many relationships, and created unbridgeable chasms in families. Gays and lesbians were targets of unstoppable bullying. They also suffered harassment by those who we depend on for protection: the police.
It’s been 47 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York City catalyzed the LGBTQ community to demand their human rights and civil rights in this country. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride parades were established across the country in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.
Looking back forty years, this weekend’s Gay Pride festivities in Boston had a lot to celebrate. The Supreme Court upheld gay marriage across the nation while striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Anti-sodomy laws been stricken from the record. The President is ordering schools to protect transgender children’s right to choose their bathrooms. And unlike 1969, gays and lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, and queer folk are afforded the protection of law enforcement.
But it wasn’t enough to stop one hater in Orlando.
Today, we learned the identities of the 49 victims of the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub. They range from 19 to 50 years old. Each one had a full life ahead of them. Each had parents, friends, loved ones. And for each of them, we can imagine the name of a child, a student or coworker, a friend or neighbor, as the target of hatred.
First, we cry. Cry for this shameful loss of life.
Then, we pray. Pray for healing. Pray for the survivors. Pray for our country. Pray that love triumphs over hate.
Then we take the horror and anger. Feel it. Own it.
We should be angry that the assault weapon that took innocent lives in Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino, is still available (and promoted gleefully by the gun industry).
We should be angry that a man who was identified by the FBI was permitted to purchase such a weapon.
We should be angry that any person needing mental health care is stigmatized in this country, and that health care coverage does not provide adequate support for behavioral health.
We should be angry that the rhetoric of hate continues within our political discourse, as if leaders have no responsibility for the actions that their words inspire.
Then we use that anger to create hope. Without hope, the cycle of violence will never end. Without hope, hate will always defeat us. Without hope, we should all be very afraid, because the haters do not stop with one vulnerable population. As the Midrash teaches, the “Mashchit” (Destroyer), once unleashed, cannot discern between the innocent and the guilty. Those who kill innocent people in schools, in movie theaters, in shopping malls, in churches, or in nightclubs endanger us all.
Cry. Pray. Get angry.
Then, create hope.
When evil darkens the world, give me light.
When despair numbs my soul, give me hope.
When I stumble and fall, lift me up.
When doubt assails me, give me trust.
When nothing seems sure, give me faith.
When ideals fade, renew my vision.
When I lose my way, be my Guide,
That I may find peace in Your presence,
And purpose in doing Your will.
(from Service of the Heart, British Liberal prayerbook, 1967)