The scene at the vigil for Orlando victims at the Stonewall Inn.



Orlando: If You Want To See Change, Find Your Local Representatives

I grew up in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, a small town where you’re more likely to see a confederate flag than a gay bar. Like so many unhappy small-town kids, I wanted to get out. I graduated high school. I moved to New York City. I rarely look back. That was four years ago.

On Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that there had been another mass shooting—the 133rd one this year—this time in Orlando, Florida. Orlando is an hour-and-a-half drive from where I grew up, a city where so many of my high school friends had gone to college. In my mind, these kinds of things don’t happen in Orlando—I still associate the city with college parties and Disney World, not violence or hatred.

I spent the rest of the day holed up in my apartment, contacting my friends from back home and reading every bit of information I could get my hands on. I read about Omar Mateen and about the victims. I read about a desperate need for blood donors and about seven- and eight-hour-long lines to donate blood. I felt angry, powerless—I was so far away and could do so little. What is a Facebook fight going to change? What will a petition fix?

There are vigils happening around the country but if you need help now, please contact the hotlines provided.
There are vigils happening around the country, but if you need help now, please contact the hotlines provided.

In New York, we grieved. We held vigils for the queer and Latinx lives lost and wondered when the fight would be over, when anti-LGBT violence would finally end, when the response to mass shootings would be gun control instead of thoughts and prayers. Sometimes it feels like vigils and Facebook posts—the left-wing equivalent of thoughts and prayers—are all we can do. After we mourn, we must take action. Healing ourselves and our communities is important, but if that’s all we do, we are unwittingly contributing to the very culture that allows this violence to happen.

Do you know who your state representative is? I didn’t know until Sunday, the day after Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured another 53. My representative in the Florida House is Richard Corcoran. He has voted in favor of every pro-gun bill in the state, including a bill authorizing open carry which passed this February. He also voted in favor of a bill authorizing “churches to decline to provide certain marriage services,” which has been dubbed the “Pastor Protection Act” and passed this March. He’s up for reelection in November.

On Sunday, Corcoran called the Orlando shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.” He never acknowledged that the perpetrator of the tragedy had purchased his weapons legally at a Florida gun shop—probably because Corcoran has an A rating from the NRA. Pam Bondi, the state’s Attorney General, passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Rep. Danny Burgess, a Republican from a neighboring district, urged his Twitter followers to “honor the fallen by calling the enemy by its name: Islamic terrorism.” Neither representative honored the fallen by acknowledging that they were queer people of color. Neither representative acknowledged that three of the victims of the Pulse shooting—two of whom are injured and one of whom is deceased—are undocumented immigrants whose families only qualify for visas due to the extreme circumstances of the shooting.

It took two days for Florida Governor Rick Scott to even mention the LGBT or Latinx communities. Marco Rubio acknowledged Mateen’s anti-LGBT motivations, yet blamed the shooting on “the way radical Islamists have treated gays and lesbians in other countries.” In another interview, he said the shooting could have happened anywhere. My congressional representative, Gus Bilirakis, has taken money from the NRA, voted against expanding the definition of hate crimes, against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, against the DREAM Act and other amnesty protections for undocumented immigrants, and against the Violence Against Women Act.

In 2009, Omar Mateen married Sitora Yusufiy. They were only together for four months. “After a few months he started abusing me physically, very often, and not allowing me to speak to my family, and keeping me hostage from them,” Yusufiy said in a press conference. Her family rescued her from the abusive relationship, but Mateen never faced any legal consequences.

Seven years later, Omar Mateen’s current wife, Noor Salman, drove him to Pulse to scope it out. She has since told authorities that she tried to talk him out of committing the attack. She may be charged with accessory to 49 counts of murder, 53 counts of attempted murder, failure to inform law enforcement, and lying to federal agents.

“Why didn’t she stop him?” we ask—if you were living with a heavily-armed man with a history of domestic abuse, what would you do? The better question to ask may be why didn’t we stop him? It’s up to us—especially to straight allies—to break this seemingly endless cycle of violence.

We live in a country where the Republican presidential candidate is trying to ban Muslim immigrants and House Republicans want to ban refugees, but no one wants to ban semiautomatic weapons. We live in a country where conservative legislators call for drug testing for welfare recipients, but not for gun owners. We live in a country where gay men can purchase guns but cannot donate blood. We live in a country where a semiautomatic rifle is more affordable than a semester at most universities.

Our legislators are as bigoted as the shooter, yet we are the ones who keep them in power. We have failed these women and all other victims of domestic violence. We have failed the queer community. We have failed the Latinx community. The only way forward is to fight against violence in all of its forms every single day of the year, not just after tragedy strikes. It’s exhausting and often thankless work, but it’s all we can do. I didn’t know who my representatives were, or what they supported. Do you?

It’s time to learn.

Don’t know who your local representatives are? Find out here. Now that you know who they are, reach out to them! Don’t know what to say? You can find sample form letters and phone call scripts here.

Stay tuned to Milk for more on the tragedy in Orlando.

All photos shot exclusively for Milk by Daniel Scott

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