All of us reel in horror at the violence in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. As Coordinator for the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council I feel it important to respond to this tragedy, just as I feel it important to respond as a human being. In either capacity I struggle to offer any kind of worthy reaction except to express solidarity with the victims and with all who suffer from the conditions that foster the kind of hate and anger we saw unleashed.
Though it is hard to find meaningful words, I think I know the right question to ask. Where do we go from here? How does our society move towards a destination where senseless mass killings, where violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, recedes into history? Many will say that such a future is unimaginable, that there will always be hatred and bitter, alienated individuals capable of acting with insane malice. To those doubters I ask how such a future can be more unimaginable than what took place Sunday in Orlando.
Perhaps there is no accounting for lunacy. But there is an accounting for the social, cultural, racial, sexual, gender and class divisions that daily express themselves in this country. There is an accounting for the willful ignorance we have of each other, for the silos we have become so adept at fashioning about us. To dismiss Orlando as the result of lunacy alone is a moral abdication.
This must be said: whatever the complexities and causative forces that fed the motives of the shooter and whatever the dimensions that link this to terrorism, the deadliest mass shooting in American history was a willful assault against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. We cannot ignore this terrible fact. The New York Times reminds us in an article this week that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are by far the most likely targets of hate crimes in America. We cannot ask why Orlando happened without asking why this is true. The questions are related. Our answers, the responses that might guide us towards a future free of hate crimes like Orlando – or New York, or Seattle, or Tampa or any number of other places where people have endured violence because of their sexual or gender identity – are necessarily related as well.
I think now of an ADAC colleague who found a simple way to frame the importance of working for a more welcoming, inclusive world of diversity. In a panel discussion we had this spring at Paul Smith’s College she asked two simple questions of the audience: “Who belongs? And who gets to decide who belongs?” Those are essential questions and they are loaded with challenge. If I have learned anything in my diversity work it is this: belonging is not a matter of ignoring differences or (god forbid) “tolerating” them. Belonging is a matter of embracing differences. Only then can all the wonderful, authentic strengths we express through those differences truly shine, and all the perceived negatives fade to unimportance. Embracing differences takes education and experience. But it also takes courage and conviction.
The unthinkable acts of this past Sunday call us to exercise both.
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Orlando massacre, their relatives, friends and allies, and all our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. But our empathy must be met by our courage and conviction for equality, inclusion, understanding and social justice, in our homes, in our communities, and right here in the Adirondack Park. That is our way forward.