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The Uncounted Cost of the Orlando Massacre

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ~Elie Wiesel

On Saturday night a gunman claimed the lives of 49 people and injured 53 others. The massacre is being called the worst mass shooting in modern American history. It is hard to imagine such a magnitude of loss, harder still to accurately quantify the depth and breadth of the pain the victims’ families are feeling right now.

Even as we reel at the sheer number of lives lost, the unimaginable reality of a loved one being there and then suddenly…being gone, there is another loss, a more intangible yet all-encompassing loss, to which we also must give voice. And that is the further loss of safety, of dignity, and of humanity afforded to gay people in this country.

Every time a hate crime against the LGBTQ community is committed, the members of that community must all suffer the ripple effect of anxiety and despair. For any time a gay person is beaten, abused, or even killed for their orientation, the message once again is writ large in our world: Gay people are less than. Gay people are ‘the other.’ Gay people should be careful where they go and what they do. They should beware of being too ‘out,’ too proud, too themselves.

These messages hit home with laser-like accuracy because we already live in a world is built upon a bedrock of homophobia. Since childhood, gay people have been told in innumerable ways, both overtly and covertly, that being gay is wrong. That it is a sin. That is a crime. (In many countries, a crime punishable by death). That who they are is flawed, that their very essence is damaged and unclean.

The psychic toll of growing up in such a world is incalculable. Who can measure the tears of a gay child crying in his bedroom late at night, adrift in a sea of self-hate and hopelessness? Who can measure the stomachaches of a gay teenager afraid to go to school? Who can measure the anxiety a gay adult feels when her conservative office-mates asks about her love-life, or the nervousness a gay couple feels when they walk down the street, too afraid to hold hands in a world that might ridicule or even kill them?

It speaks to the strength and quiet dignity of the human spirit that people can endure such inhumane treatment and still remain loving, peaceful adults. But we cannot let this peaceful exterior fool us into thinking that these experiences do not take their toll. And every time a hate crime occurs, particularly one of such viciousness and one of such magnitude, every single gay person is affected. Their world feels that much less safe. Their community feels that much less welcoming. And, internally, those aching spots awaken—a little, or maybe a lot, depending on the person’s energetic universe at that moment.

One thing I have learned in recent years is that nothing is more dangerous to the human spirit than these untreated wounds. Nothing is more damaging than walking around with seeds of shame within your belly, seeds that a world like ours is all too eager to water and fertilize for us. People who are LGBTQ are three times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and they are also more likely to abuse drugs/alcohol and engage in risky behavior. (Suicide is THE leading cause of death among LGBT teens—if that doesn’t speak to the insidious level of self-hate bred into our young people, I don’t know what does).

When people are told every day in myriad ways that they are not worthy or lovable human beings, it is only natural that they begin to accept and believe these messages to some extent, perhaps without even realizing it. It is only natural to struggle with self-care if a person has been programmed to believe that their orientation makes them unworthy of basic rights and dignity.

Research has shown that our beliefs about ourselves are incredibly potent—if we believe that we aren’t as valuable and lovable as other people, we will begin to bring those beliefs into existence. We will continually attract negative experiences and broken relationships into our lives, and we will accept poor treatment from others. Our misery will become a magnet, and we will cheat ourselves out of a happy, full life without even realizing it. And, more importantly, we will never enjoy the abiding pleasure of self-love…the pleasure of radical self-acceptance and self-compassion.

In the wake of recent findings, it seems highly possible that the Orlando shooter was repressing his own sexual orientation, as numerous sources have now confirmed that he had a history of dating men. This is makes it markedly apparent that self-hatred run rampant is perhaps one of the most dangerous ills in our society.

What if this man grew up in a world where being gay was not a shameful abnormality, in a country where gays were afforded equal rights and equal humanity? Would he have become a killer anyway? Or would he have embraced his true identity and become a vessel for love rather than hate? It's impossible to say, but yet I must stress that the world cannot, will not be a safe place until all of us are given equal rights and the freedom to the embrace our complete and perfect selves.

So what is the solution? First, I urge anyone who is feeling impacted by the Orlando massacre to seek help right away. Even if you do not know anyone who was personally harmed in the attack, you have every right to your feelings—and indeed, you have a responsibility to your feelings and to manage them effectively. Even just a session or two with a caring, empathetic counselor can help you onto a path of self-care and compassion. If you are the parent of a gay child or teen, be sure to check in with them and connect during this difficult and scary time. As I said above, even though you might not know anyone in Orlando, it doesn’t mean that your child was not impacted deeply. They need your words of affirmation more than ever right now.

And, if you are an LGBT ally, now is the time to become a warrior. We all must be vocal and vociferous opponents of all bigotry and violence. We must speak our truths even when our voices shake. In fact, I find that it is during those times—those times when we feel so vulnerable that we can hardly find the words—that our voice is most needed, most powerful, and most righteous.

Only when we all come together to speak in a united front against the hatred that has hurt so many for so long, can we finally put an end to the infinite pain homophobia has ravaged upon our world. Here is to healing, to solidarity, and to a country that will not tolerate bigotry of any form.

Here is a list of the victims who lost their lives on Saturday night:   

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old