Before the sun rose on June 13th 2016, 49 people lay dead outside Pulse nightclub with a further 53 injured.
This summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Orlando, Florida for two weeks. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautifully inclusive cities I have ever been to, which makes the tragedy that happened here all the more horrific.
I have never been lucky enough to come across one of those neighbourhoods where everyone genuinely loves and supports one another. And yet that is what the entire city of Orlando felt like. The reports of this act of terrorism tearing apart the community has never been more true.
Orlando is a beautiful, charismatic city that I simply loved wondering around. It was at the time when Pokemon Go was the craze and so all around in the blazing heat were groups of friends, young and old, having a laugh and trying to catch some Pokemon. It was surreal, but kind of awesome, and definitely the kind of welcome into America that I should have expected in 2016.
So, for months I have been trying to write this blog post because I feel like I just cannot put into words the severe injustice of this mass shooting. I cannot get my head around how or why this even happened. Whatever I write will never bring those people back.
The most poignant moment from visiting the memorial the day before it was moved permanently to the Orlando museum was overhearing a conversation between two friends. One girl asked her friend how another friend was doing. Her friend looked at her, gave her a half smile and told her that she’s walking now at least. Her friend is still in hospital but she’s starting to walk without her shot-at leg. She then turned back to the memorial and stared blankly at it. I couldn’t help but feel like her friend was one of the lucky ones. That she had lost more friends to this act of terror and hate. Of course we need to mourn those who lost their lives, but 53 people’s lives were changed for the worst forever, and we need to help them too. Survivors guilt is very real, and something that needs to be acknowledged after a horrific event such as this. Months later, I still wonder how those girls are coping.
There have been many, many, many mass shootings in America so I’m not quite sure why this one hit me quite as hard as it did. Maybe in a completely delusional way I just did not expect such a severe hate crime to take place in the western world in the 21st century. Naive, I know. Part of it was the uproar it caused, the support that poured in after the attack and the love from all over the world that was sent to this beautiful city. For a moment I had hope.
And then came the election.
Need I say more?
For anyone unfamiliar with the democratic system in America, whoever the state of Florida votes for generally wins the entire election. Fair, I know. So why, after one of America’s biggest hate crimes in history, did Florida vote for Trump? A guy who actively hates LGBT people, who has appointed a Vice President who wants to take away funding from HIV charities and put it towards gay conversion therapy, and who dismissed the deaths of LGBT people in this attack with a single tweet.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have wanted to move to New York since, well forever. Yet throughout the entire election campaign I have been adamant that if Trump won, I could not physically move my life out there. And then of course the worst happened, he actually somehow won. But instead of deterring me, it’s made me even more determined to move to New York and study International Humanitarian Action, partly just for the irony.
Yes, Trump winning the US Election is a huge step back, especially for minorities like the LGBT+ community, but we need to not let it defeat us. We cannot let what happened in Orlando become the norm, or let it become dismissed by a man whose values are simply backwards. We need to mourn but we also need to make sure that we do whatever we can to ensure it never happens again. Realistically, sadly it will happen again but we must never forget.
After all, love wins.