Junior says, ‘Change starts with you’ in response to Orlando attack

(Photo used by permission of Creative Commons)
On June 12, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Junior Austin Talamantes is a guest writer and the president of the LGBTQ+ club.

There really is no way for me to fully convey to you how it feels to be part of the LGBTQ+ community right now. I don’t know how to tell you in words how I feel as a gay and gender-questioning person right now, but I will try to explain as best I can. I myself have no way of imagining how the survivors of the attack and the families of the victims feel.

I was in Los Angeles when the shooting happened. I woke up to the news. My parents came in and told my brother and me that the largest mass shooting in U.S. history had happened, and that it was at Latin Night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida.

I suppose we all felt the same shock, the shock that always comes with news of mass shootings. We instantly think: Again? When will this be over?

But this time it was so much more personal. I was frozen to the core. And as my parents continued to describe what happened, I couldn’t keep myself from crying.

In the hours afterward, as I read article after article, it sank in. This was real. Fifty of my brothers and sisters and our allies had been murdered because of what they were. They were the dirty words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.

I had never felt so devastated for people I did not know.

The emotions I have felt are difficult to explain or simplify.

I tasted bitter irony when I found out that gay men couldn’t give blood to their friends who were injured in the shooting.

I felt anger towards the government for resisting gun control laws, and when I found out a pastor in the Sacramento area said the victims got what was coming to them.

I felt disoriented and afraid the next day, sitting on a Universal Studios ride in which 3D gunmen shot at me from either side.

I felt grief as you would for family when I saw the faces of the victims, a grief that hasn’t dwindled in the several days since the attack.

I have always felt different for being gay, sometimes afraid, but now I feel as though I have a glowing red sign on my chest. Everywhere I go I think, “Do they know? Do they know? Do they know?”

I have felt utter defeat at the realization that no matter how hard and how long the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting, we’re still nowhere near victory.

I have felt utter defeat because I know that if I were in a different place right this instant and I lived openly with my identity, I could be dead seven ways ‘til Sunday.

I have felt defeat because so many people like me live in environments where they have to kill a part of themselves to avoid being killed.

And when I realized that America was more similar to those environments than I had thought and that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights would probably never be won, I almost started sobbing in the car.

I have thought back to every time I’ve been called a faggot and every time I’ve heard boys at my school make fun of gay or transgender people. I think of all the times I have felt like boys were uncomfortable around me because I am gay or didn’t want to be friends. Each instance of these things seems engraved in my mind, because now I know that there is a larger pattern to them that I can’t ignore.

All of those small, hateful words and actions – no matter how harmless they appear to be to those who have not experienced their impact –  add up.

They build into an environment that makes my community feel like a joke, a group of lepers. They build an environment that condones and enacts hatred on my community.

The media and certain vocal Americans are pushing the focus on whether or not the gunman was a “radicalized Islamic extremist.” But that’s not what we should be arguing about, because that’s not what the attack was about.

The shooting happened either because the man was homophobic (which seems obvious to me) or because, as recent reports have been saying, he himself was gay and was at war with himself about it.

Either way, the same conclusion can be drawn. The environment we begin to build in middle school and continue to through high school – the environment built on insensitive slurs and exclusion – grows into a culture.

This is the culture that the gunman, born and raised in America, was internalizing when he shot us.

Your words and actions are not inconsequential.

So take a long time to think about what has happened. Think about the mothers and fathers who are never going to see their children again, the siblings and friends who will never hear the victims laugh or cry.

Think about the gunman, what caused him to do what he did, and how you may or may not have contributed to his ideals.

Think about what you can do to prevent such an act of hatred from occurring again.

And think about all the Muslims who will be persecuted for a crime they didn’t commit and used as scapegoats for a crime that America itself has inspired.

Think of the Latinx community in Orlando that has been shaken by this tragedy.

Think of the children all around the world who are given a death sentence upon birth because of their sexuality or gender.

Yes, we need your thoughts and prayers. But we also need you to take action. Write out your thoughts. Give money to the victims, survivors and their families.

Object when you hear Muslims blamed for the actions of a man who does not represent the Islamic community.

Lobby for gun control laws that prevent the mass murders we experience several times a year here in the U.S from happening in other countries.

And when you hear someone say something xenophobic or something against the LGBTQ+ community, speak up. When one of your friends or neighbors or family members identifies as being part of that community, support them and love them.

Inspire change that will help us prevent such an occurrence from happening again. Inspire change that will revolutionize our country’s culture.

By Austin Talamantes

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