What is America’s voice – after Orlando?

Orlando 1

We gathered yesterday evening at the geographic center of what had once been Washington D.C.’s LGBTQ neighborhood. A speaker was quick to point out that while Dupont Circle still signaled that legacy, Washington’s LGBTQ community was now spread all across this city and this region. We all smiled. Just in front of me, a silent man with a tall tripod and camera was very busy: there were so many images worth capturing, so many faces that told stories of deep emotions, the weariness of grief, the inability to make any sense of what had happened. There were tears, and hugs, and some who stood – just like me – all alone with our candles, yet not alone at all.

Those who had come to Dupont Circle are our community and our allies. For a brief but precious moment of time, we held hands with the people at our sides. In the warm feel of those hands that evening, I sensed that this gathered community embodied, more than any words or prayers or names that were spoken, what solidarity and empathy and love consists of.  In the face of so much hatred and callousness in this larger world, there we stood united – a community of love and dignity, poignantly aware of our place in the well-defined battle lines of a war that seems never-ending. We are vulnerable, but we are also resilient .

I settled in to hold in the Light each of the 49 names being read aloud, and I cried, and then I finally noticed that the cameraman was from the Voice of America. What images and message would he be sharing with the world? What is America’s voice in the midst of such a tragedy?

As already noted by wiser and more eloquent commentators, there isn’t one voice. Millions of Americans, feeling especially emboldened by a very dangerous and divisive demagogue whom they have chosen as their leader, are seeking to make Islam the enemy – and Orlando is convenient for their purposes. I know, love, and respect so many Muslims whom I have met, befriended, worked with, and shared my spiritual journey with, to know the utter absurdity of blaming that or any religion.  Others point the blame at the National Rifle Association, and the pervasive national insanity of the gun culture. That particular mindset is morally tied to so many senseless killings, but the American “thing” about guns is beyond my understanding. The fact that there are more places to buy weapons in America than there are Starbucks in the entire world fills me with dread, sorrow, confusion, and anger. How did we ever get to this place?

Still others remember that it was LGBTQ people, mostly Hispanic, who were targeted in Orlando – and some Americans believe that such killings have something of “God’s justice” in them. I pray for their souls, and that some Light might find a path to lighten such bleak inner darkness. LGBTQ people are people, just like any other people. Attacking our dignity and our humanity only diminishes all of us…straight, cisgender, or LGBTQ.

So, what is America’s voice?

Perhaps because I am a Quaker (and hence someone who values the richness and depth of silence) I think that this may be a time when voice isn’t what we need right away. For me at least, I need to pause. I must process, discern, and hopefully find something authentic, hopeful, and healing arising out of the cacophony of the many, many voices. That will take time and silence. In that silence, I will continue to embrace the compelling images of loving, dignified, caring human beings. I know that each of us must attend to our individual spiritual labors as we feel for that center where we can – and must – ultimately come together.

Coming together? This isn’t an option.

We cannot simply shrug and wait for the 24-hour news cycle to take this away from us, to blunt the pain…to move us along. The warning signs are everywhere: voices and actions that are brash and jarring and filled with hate. But even if just for a short and recuperative moment, I choose to push them aside. Instead I will sit quietly, recalling Saturday’s Pride Parade in Washington. As I do this, I’m filled with the vivid memory of the noisy, gritty, sometimes erotic, sometimes comical, but always empowering gathering of so many, many people, of all ages, faiths, ethnicities, races, genders, orientations, identities, and expressions. I remember how affirmed and loved I felt by the jubilant cheers, smiles, and well-wishes of the thousands of people whom I marched past, and by the Quakers who walked with me. “Power” comes in many forms.

So I will continue to try to find some path to peace in my heart and mind. I will remember the faces, the bright eyes, and the warm hands of the people who high-fived my own hand. I’ll remember the short, older man holding his “Freedom for Balochistan” sign, to whom I gifted my rainbow garland, perhaps as a spontaneous gesture to my dear Pakistani LGBTQ friends.

I will remember the love. And I will try my best to hold Orlando in that Light and love.

That love is the image – the “voice” if you will – that I offer as “the voice of America”. It is pretty audacious, given how unloving much of American seems to be just now. And who better is there to vocalize this love than those who are so marginalized, so often despised, and victimized around the world – the LGBTQ community? It will take many more American communities coming together to make that love real and effective, I know, but we in the LGBTQ community have an important role to play in staking a claim for dignity.

I will take on that “ambassadorial” role any day, even if I know that we have our work cut out for us.


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