When I was 16 years old my parents planned a surprise birthday party for me. They invited a group of my friends to Planet Hollywood in Washington, DC. The day of my party also happened to be the day of the annual Capital PRIDE celebration. In order to get me to Planet Hollywood my Dad and brother framed it as “let’s just go check out DC for the day.” We headed into DC and started walking towards Planet Hollywood with the plan that my brother would just casually suggest eating there for lunch. In order to get there we walked smack dab through the middle of the PRIDE parade. At one point we were practically in the parade. I remember watching my Dad’s face to see his reaction. I remember the smirk on my older brother’s face as he smiled about the surprise that awaited me and probably imagined my mom walking through the same parade a few minutes prior with a group of my good friends, some of whom she didn’t know that well. I remember smiling in awe as I took in the bright colors, open expressions of love, and colorful personalities that surrounded me. It was a joyous event and one I have not and never will forget. We eventually arrived at Planet Hollywood and I was indeed surprised. But whenever I retell the story of my 16th birthday party Planet Hollywood doesn’t even get mentioned. I like to tell it as “Mom and Dad planned a surprise party for me at the Capital PRIDE Parade. It was AWESOME!”
And awesome it was. This was my first true experience of LGBT culture and I don’t remember much except the immense feeling of joy and warmth that came from being a part of that parade. My Dad, brother, and I must have stuck out like a sore thumb walking through; But not for a second did I feel out of place or uncomfortable, because everyone there stuck out for their own unique style, beauty, outfits, hair, costumes, love, energy, and excitement. It was a wonderful feeling.
A number of years prior, when I was about 10 I remember standing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house when I overheard a conversation in which I learned that my beloved cousin Paul, was gay. At the time I had recently heard in the news about there being a greater number of people who were gay who were contracting the AIDS virus. So, my first thought was one of worry. I just wanted my cousin, whom I loved dearly to be ok. Once I talked to my mom and learned that he was completely fine, then so was I. I loved him, and who he loved didn’t matter at all to me, or to my parents.
A number of years after that I remember meeting my cousin’s boyfriend (also named Paul!) for the first time at their apartment in Greenwich Village. I was there with my boyfriend, and the four of us went to lunch at a local restaurant. Paul and Paul had been dating for some years at that point but this was the first time I had the chance to see them together as a couple. I remember being struck by the tender and sincere love and affection that they shared and still do.
Since that time, through college and work I have been fortunate to call many men and women who are gay or lesbian, my friends. And from each and every one of them I have never felt anything in return except love, acceptance, and friendship.
Why do I write all this? It is to tell the Orlando shooter (who I will not even name) that he messed with the wrong group. Mr. Shooter, your heart may have been filled with hatred. And your goal was to spread that evil far and wide. You likely sought to silence and scare a group of people you rejected as “other.” But we will not be silenced. We will not be brought to our knees in fear. We will rise up. We will spread love. We will reject hate. And we will make this world a stronger and better place in light of the evil act you committed.
Yes, I say we. For the attack may have been directly against the LGBT community, but all of us who are their allies and friends will stand with them to spread the love further. We will recall the kindness, joy, acceptance and openness that we feel when surrounded by the LGBT community and we will seek to take the lessons they teach and preach so well, and we will raise better children; we will be better people; we will love more and hate less.
The same cousin I mentioned above currently lives in Florida. He posted a video this morning from a memorial service he attended last night in St. Petersburg. In the video everyone was singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cannot think of a better way to honor the 49 men and women who died in the wake of such evil. Their deaths will not be in vain. For each of those brave brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, I say:
“Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”
Will you join me?