In the wake of tragedy, we find ourselves going through a wide range of emotions. It is normal to be shocked, saddened and even heartbroken.
To empathize with the pain of those affected and to be thankful that the tragedy wasn’t in our own neighborhood are both perfectly acceptable responses. My heart goes out to the victims of the attack on the Orlando LGBTQ community and their families, friends and loved ones. As evidenced by the hundreds who showed up for a vigil at Triangle park and my own Facebook newsfeed, I am not alone. We express our thoughts and our prayers for those affected.
But let’s be honest, thoughts and prayers only go so far in the wake of a tragedy like this.
We need real action. We need real policy change. We need our leaders to offer their condolences but also to stand beside us at festivals and events that celebrate who we are as a community.
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Beyond just saddened, I am angry.
I’m angry that some have chosen to ignore that this was, at the very least a hate crime against the LGBT community. For many in the LGBT community, a bar or nightclub is a sanctuary. It is a place where people can celebrate themselves away from hate-filled speech, hate-filled actions, and yes sometimes hate-filled sermons. A bar or club may be the only safe space for a gay, lesbian or transgender person. This is even more evident for the people of color within our community.
So let’s call it what it is — a hate crime. The Orlando mass shooting was a targeted crime of hate against the gay and lesbian community.
Thoughts and prayers for the people affected by this tragedy are wonderful, but let us turn those thoughts and prayers into action for making our cities safer and more welcoming for the LGBTQ community. Thoughts and prayers only go so far when LGBTQ people can still be fired, evicted or denied public service in most areas of this state. The lack of a statewide fairness ordinance means they face the constant threat of discrimination.
This discrimination is condoned by state lawmakers who are elected to represent us all but who continue to stand opposed to LGBT protection bills.
It is condoned by organizations that claim to be pro-family but actively lobby against bills that say our communities are welcoming places.
It is condoned by faith communities that profess loving thy neighbor but believe that their neighbor should be evicted because of who they are and who they love.
These actions seem to say we’re fine with discrimination against gays and lesbians as long as it doesn’t involve anyone being killed.
The time for social media posts, for thoughts and prayers, for government inaction has passed.
Let us honor those lost by guaranteeing fairness and standing up for equality for all of this community.
Josh Mers is chair of Lexington Fairness.