In the Line of Fire: Reflections on the First Anniversary of the Pulse Massacre

About 369 days ago, I came out for the first time. I did it over text message, like the millennial trash I am. I still have the screenshots of my confession and my roommate’s reply, in which she told me that she was proud of me and that I was great and that she loved me a whole bunch *heart emoji.* I saved the texts because it was a rare moment of safety and self-acceptance for a then-closeted gay kid working at a Christian campground. It was a moment when I felt like everything was going to be ok. It was a deep breath in the midst of a years-long panic.

Four days later was the Orlando Massacre.

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, I felt the full weight of the words “that could have been me” like I never had before. Forty-nine people were murdered in what was supposed to be a sanctuary, the same kind of sanctuary I had just visited for the first time a couple weeks earlier. They died on what was supposed to be a lighthearted night of dancing and flirting and drinking and being human. They were not radicals. They were not there as activists. They were kids and spouses and siblings and partners who were just trying to have a good time and live their lives. They were killed for doing exactly what I was trying to work up the courage to do: openly existing as the people they were created to be.

The Pulse Shooting was a brutal reminder to the LGBT community that to step out of the closet is to step into gunfire. We already knew that, but we were starting to get comfortable with the fact that the gunfire is usually metaphorical. Usually it’s the slurs you hear every now and then, or the dirty looks you occasionally get for holding your significant other’s hand in public. Sometimes “gunfire” comes in the form of social isolation, depression, or anxiety. Sometimes it’s misguided and damaging theology that condemns you to Hell. Sometimes it’s having to sign a contract promising not to be a “practicing homosexual” before your evangelical college will give you housing.

But damn it, sometimes the gunfire is literal. And I still don’t know how to process that. I don’t know what to say when my mom asks if it’s safe for me to go to Pride, and I don’t know how to not think about June 12, 2016 every single time I go out dancing with my friends. I don’t know how to comprehend the pain that the families of those 49 people have endured or how to give any kind of comfort to the friends who were left behind. I just know that LGBT people are still getting killed for existing, and I know that we keep existing anyway.

Not only do we still exist, but we still go dancing. We still hold hands. We still laugh and create and love so very deeply. We still go to evangelical colleges, and I dare say, we are still fabulous. The Church may have given me the language to talk about forgiveness and joy in suffering, but over the past year, it has been the queer community that has shown me what that actually looks like.

After Orlando, it’s hard to feel like everything is going to be ok. But we can still learn to take deep breaths in the midst of panic, and we can take pride in the fact that every single one of those breaths is an act of bravery.

On this one year anniversary of the Pulse Massacre, please take a moment to read through the names of those who lost their lives. Remember them, say a prayer for their families, and consider making a donation to Equality Florida in their honor. 

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Rest In Pride.

I Just Came Out to Say “Happy Pride!”

Oh hey, it’s Pride Month!

Since June of 1970, one year after the Stonewall Riots, Pride has been a beautiful time of parades, parties, mourning, protests, and glitter. This year is the first time I have been able to openly celebrate it as my super gay self, and let me tell you, it feels darn good. After a long year full of many difficult coming out conversations, I am proud indeed.

If you’ve never had to come out before, you might not realize just how strange and stressful the process is. It is a process that is further complicated by the fact that there seems to be two kinds of “coming out” occasions these days. First, there’s the kind that you have in the living room or over coffee, with loved ones who need to finally be told a significant and intimate detail about your life. This is the terrifying, vulnerable, awkward kind. This is the kind that can even come with a risk of losing friends and family. It’s the kind that usually ends in crying or hugging or both. This is the kind I have gotten REALLY good at.

And then there’s the social media kind, which, in the grand scheme of queer history, is a Very New Thing. I’ve never really hopped on this train. While I frequently reference LGBTQ issues on Twitter and Facebook, I don’t think I have ever explicitly said the words “I’m gay” on the internet, nor have I shared any of my personal journey to self-acceptance. It’s not that I’m embarrassed or ashamed. Not at all. The problem is that I know that my story matters, but I also firmly believe that I do not owe my story to anyone. I would love to put my life out there for people who could benefit from hearing about my experience, but I’m still pretty bitter that “coming out” is even a thing that anyone has to do in 2017. I’m angry about the fact that coming out means being pressured to prove myself as both a legitimate Christ-follower and a legitimate gay person (as opposed to a sexually confused sinner who has been led astray). While I am confident and secure in my identity in Christ as well as my identity as a gay woman, that pressure is still exhausting.

However, I have started to realize that the possibility of making a few queer kids feel less alone might outweigh the frustration of constantly explaining my existence. And I think that might be part of what makes Pride Month so beautiful. Parades are not a form of apologetics. We do not dance in the streets in an attempt to make ourselves more palatable to society. We do not hold hands or raise our fists in an effort to make straight people like us. We do these things because we are human, and we do them together because we need each other.

I am aware that this blog post is going to be read by two kinds of people: straight folks and non-straight folks. To my straight friends, I want to say that I love you. I want to dialogue with you. I want to talk about sexuality and theology and power and privilege and other important things. But not right now. This post is not for you. I’ll catch you in July.

Now…to my queer family,

I also want to say that I love you. Like, so much that it hurts. In fact, a LOT of people love you, even if that doesn’t always feel true.

I want you to understand just how strong you are, even if you haven’t “come out” yet, and even if you never do. Your survival is bravery and I’m so incredibly proud of you.

I want you to know that you are not alone in any of this and that you are not disqualified from the Kingdom of God.

I want to tell you that there is a space for you in the Church and in the LGBT community, and there are some great folks waiting for you with open arms here at the intersection.

I want to be a source of encouragement and a point of connection for you. I want to introduce you to the people who made me feel like I was gonna be ok. I want to let you borrow some books. I want to get coffee with you. I’ll tell you my story and you can tell me yours.

I honestly can’t think of a more beautiful way to celebrate my first real Pride Month. And I guess if I need to do this whole social-media-coming-out thing in order to make those connections happen, then so be it. I’m really gay, you guys.

Happy June, everyone! May your month be full of joy, glitter, and a deep awareness of God’s love.

With pride,

Caitlin J. Stout