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It Was In Bars Like Pulse That We Learned To Love All Those In Our LGBT Alphabet

Kari Hong: The Pulse nightclub victims died in a space that was more sacred than what the word nightclub conveys. Pictured: Adriana Kelley, right, kisses Tiffany Findley, both of Orlando, as they stand with supporters outside the visitation for a Pulse nightclub shooting victim, Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (David Goldman/AP)
Kari Hong: The Pulse nightclub victims died in a space that was more sacred than what the word nightclub conveys. Pictured: Adriana Kelley, right, kisses Tiffany Findley, both of Orlando, as they stand with supporters outside the visitation for a Pulse nightclub shooting victim, Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (David Goldman/AP)
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As the national conversation continues to shape the meaning of Orlando, I am hopeful that three threads will not be lost.

First, the men and women who were slaughtered—the beautiful lives cut short—did not die in a bar. They died in a space that was more sacred than what the word nightclub conveys. I came out at 19 years old. In my 20s, I sought out and regularly spent time in LGBT bars with friends and partners. I never drank until I was 29. It did not matter, I was a regular bar patron in every major city I lived in.

When I was first coming out, I needed the LGBT bars to help me map out whom I could be. When looking around the room, seeing the diversity of looks, professions and backgrounds, I learned I could define what it meant for me to be lesbian.

...for all of us who have been afraid to hold hands with a loved one, the LGBT clubs were where we received sanctuary.

And for all of us who have been afraid to hold hands with a loved one, the LGBT clubs were where we received sanctuary. These were the first public spaces where we were free from the judgment and violence we knew was outside the door.

In the quest for marriage, the LGBT community trotted out its most respectable members: the war veterans, the forever faithful, the super parents who sought out abandoned children languishing in foster care to heal and love. No doubt that is part of who we are. But our community is made whole by the masculine women, the effeminate men, those for whom gender identity is more complex, and those who defy definition. It was in the bars that we learned to love all of those in our alphabet.

There is an unbridled, infectious joy in being around those who are not beholden to convention. Such joy inspires all of us to be who we are meant to be. A killer’s decision to target this space of all places, heightens the cruelty and amplifies the senselessness.

Second, I suspect that our first-hand experience in being scapegoated is why the loudest voices calling to condemn the Muslim religion are not from the LGBT community. The LGBT community is filled with Muslim members and has countless straight Muslim allies.

No religion has a monopoly on hatred and exclusion. The very church — a Midwestern Lutheran church — that confirmed me as a child will not embrace me as an adult. A number of Christian religions will not ordain LGBT ministers, will not marry LGBT individuals, will not display a rainbow flag, will not greet congregants with a message of inclusion.

Those ridiculous religious liberty laws — thinly-veiled excuses that give people permission to deny services and bathroom access to the LGBT community — are being championed by those who claim to be Christian, a label I wish they would not use. In the Bible I studied, Jesus never told his followers to seek out the most vulnerable and harm them in his name.

For those who seek to fault a major religion for Orlando’s attack, they would be wise to remember Jesus's admonition on who may throw the first stone. Time would be better spent asking whether all religions are living up to the ideals of love, forgiveness, compassion and community.

Third, Orlando is so much more than an expression of anti-gay sentiment. I learned long ago not to dwell on the pain of exclusion but move to the power of action. Orlando joins the list of massacres where deranged, angry cowards used military-grade weapons to hunt their fellow human beings, whose crimes were simply being at school, at work, at a place of worship, in public, or in the way.

In the words of my friend, the playwright Kara Hartzler, it is ridiculous that the only law that has saved any of us from harm has been the law of averages.

...it is ridiculous that the only law that has saved any of us from harm has been the law of averages.

Kara Hartzler

The LGBT community knows firsthand how laws shape our world. We were told that the Constitution would never protect us, that legislators will never embrace us, that history has ordained our fate. But we received the right to marry years before people thought we would. It turns out that the impossibility of changing the status quo was an opinion, not a fact.

There is existing, common sense legislation that will make a difference: enacting the assault-weapons ban, repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that ended all civil liability for the gun industry, and permitting the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence as a public health problem.

My heart always broke at mass shootings. Orlando cut deeper. I have no qualms about being a single-issue voter until this gun violence abates. The law of averages can no longer be our sole source of protection.

Related:

Kari Hong Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Kari Hong is an assistant professor at Boston College Law School

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