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?