This morning I woke to sadness and heartbreak, hoping still that the nightmare was not a reality. As I searched for morning traffic reports, all stations and channels were reporting updates on the weekend tragedy that rocked the nation and hit my LGBT community at the core. The Orlando shooting not only penetrated the hearts of so many families of origin, but even more families of choice.
I heard a disturbing request by officials asking that only “family” contact their information hotline, as they are attempting to confirm identification of the victims. I was saddened to think that many families of choice may be the only family that confirms the identity of some victims. The reality is that our community is more likely to be isolated from family of origin and rely greatly on the community as family. LGBT youth report extraordinarily high family rejection rates; LGBT elders may have outlived their parents and siblings and may not have any children to care for them. In so many cases, “family” for LGBT people means the friends, partners, lovers, and colleagues who may not be legally recognized as such.
And yet, as we saw in Anderson Cooper’s powerful interview with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, until the Supreme Court legalized marriage for all, Florida had been fighting hard to keep LGBT families separated. Without SCOTUS’s actions, families of Orlando victims may not have been able to be with their loved ones in the hospital, or even find out that their partners had been shot.
In my personal journey, I have found that families of choice have been defined in a variety of ways, all which encompass the importance of community, love, and acceptance. Like many others, I found my brave space within social settings that include dance halls and other LGBT-affirming gatherings, like Pulse Orlando. These venues embrace free expression of self and provide space for LGBT people to look, act, sound, and love the way that feels most real to them. This act of hate has made our sanctuaries feel a little less safe, and that is a tragedy on top of a tragedy.
I am shaken at the thought of a terrorist act happening anywhere in the world and now even more concerned and cautious. However, I will continue to patronize LGBT-affirming venues and gatherings as our communities embrace one another through this heartache. I am encouraged by the strength of the community and the support of allies that continue to stand in solidarity.
We’ve come so far, and there is still much work to be done.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.