Initially, an immense sadness washed over me at the news of the Orlando mass shooting, the deadliest in American history. A sadness that I wasn't surprised that this happened, a helpless, hopeless sadness for the dozens of people lost due to hate and ignorance. But the sadness was quickly replaced by anger.
Anger that this type of violence, to this degree, only happens in this country, and happens far too often, but still nothing is done about it. Once I realized that in America it's okay for 20 children, ages six and seven, to die in the middle of the day at an elementary school, I knew that a couple dozen faggots dead in an Orlando nightclub would never and could never move the needle on gun control.
I was angry that our politicians continue to fail us so spectacularly, and that calling for reform of our gun laws at times like these is always "inappropriate" or "opportunistic", when it's just a natural reaction to tragedy. If something bad happens, you want to make sure it doesn't happen again.
I was angry that in the wake of a tragedy, Donald Trump felt it necessary to gloat about being "right" about radical Islam, though the killer Omar Mateen's ties to ISIS are tenuous as best. Mateen's father even claimed his son wasn't religious, but that the sight of two men kissing angered him. This was a hate crime any way you look at it, ties to ISIS or not.
I was angry that Trump and his ilk, trumpeting the return to an America that never really existed, created the environment for something like this to happen. All this unchecked rage, hate, homophobia, and finger-pointing made it possible for Omar Mateen to gun down 49 innocent human beings, with lives and families and loves of their own. Congressional kowtowing to the NRA made it possible for Omar Mateen to buy an AR-15 type assualt rifle like the one used in Sandy Hook.
Omar Mateen was an American problem, homegrown and bred. In the words of his father, he "was an American and not an Afghan-American. He was born in the US...He attended school here, worked here and his whole life was here." He was raised on American values and in the American culture, which is one of extreme and unrepentant violence.
And make no mistake that Sedique Mateen's views on homosexuality probably informed his son's: "On the topic of being hamjensbazi [a derogatory term for gays], punishment and the things that they do, God will give the punishment."
But Islam is not the enemy here. If it is, then so is Christianity, Judaism, and any other religion that teaches homosexuality is wrong. But religion also teaches love, compassion, and understanding, which people like Omar Mateen and ISIS and anyone who uses religion to divide people rather than unite them cannot possibly understand.
I was angry that human life has such little value, angry because it hurts to know that people hate you for simply existing, angry that after this news cycle nothing will change and we'll just have the same discussions when the next mass shooting happens. When, not if. It's always when. In the face of all this anger, all this sadness, all this hopelessness, all this hate, all this confusion, what can we possibly do? The easiest thing there is to do, which is love.
Whenever I heard people talking about loving their fellow man, I always dismissed it as just some hollow, hippie bullshit that didn't mean anything. I grew up in a generation where love is something you buy and sell, not something that heals. But seeing a mother crying on the news because she couldn't find her son, I wanted so badly to hug her and cry with her and share her pain because we all share her pain. If you're any type of minority in this country, you know what it is to be hated, or targeted, or treated unfairly. Nearly everyone knows what it's like to lose a loved one. Everyone knows what it is to love.
At times like this, our shared humanity is our only comfort. Love is powerful, it is real, and it transcends boundaries, religions, races, sexual and gender identities. I was reminded of that last night at a vigil held at the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. En route, I ran into some friends who informed me of an earlier incident, where a gender nonconforming person of Muslim faith stood up and declared that Islam was not the problem, only to be shouted down by others who felt differently.
Already disappointed, I joined the crowd at Stonewall, only to hear behind me a child asking their parent what the crowd and the flags and the signs were all about. The parent said they were all there to "stop hate. What's the opposite of hate?"
"Love," the child replied, and then started frantically screaming, "Stop hate! Stop hate! Stop hate!" as the crowd applauded. And that's what it's all about. I'm still angry, I'm still sad, but I am also full of love. Love for my fellow queers, love for America and its imperfections because I can still be who I am here, and love for the world in all its vastness.
There is an infinite amount of love available to you, and only a finite amount of hate. Because to hate requires effort, but to live is the purest expression of love. And to love is to live fully and freely.