I’m gay. Together, those words are powerful. They’re even more powerful if you say them out loud. Because by saying them out loud to your family, friends, colleagues, strangers you meet, you standing up for the LGBTQ+ community, asserting that “I am here, and I count.”
Moments after last call this past Sunday at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, a man made his way in and proceeded to kill 49 people and wound more than 50 others in the worst mass shooting in United States history. I won’t use his name, because he doesn’t deserve attention. His motives are still being determined by authorities, but it’s becoming more clear that he was at least partly motivated to harm LGBTQ people.
For now, the right are calling it a “terrorist attack” and the left are calling it a “mass shooting.” I will let others weigh into the debate about assault weapons and radicalized young men, because for me, as a gay man, this is a hate crime. And my heart is broken.
The victims were, for the most part, young people just like you. And this isn’t the first time the LGBTQ community has been targeted out of hatred. Countless men and women have died just for being gay. In 2015, the FBI attributed 18.6 percent of single-bias hate crimes committed to the victims’ presumed sexual orientation, to homophobia. Given how small a swath of population the LGBTQ+ community make up, they are more vulnerable than any other group. From a 2011 FBI report, cited by The Atlantic: “LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate-crime than Jews or black people.”
And those are just the reported hate crimes—countless others go unreported, making it very hard to get an understanding of the scope of the problem.
percent of homeless youth identify as gay, and many were kicked out of their homes for being gay. It’s important to recognize this, because it feeds into the larger problem of hate. Supporting people who aren’t able to come out is just as important as advocating and working towards the day when they will be able to.
Hate will never go away, but part of what fuels hate is the unknown. What we don’t know scares us. If more people were out, more people talked about being gay, about their gay friends, in a casual, normal, not categorization way, then maybe there wouldn’t be so much to be scared of.
Full Disclosure: I’m writing this with ulterior motives. I know that you, dear reader, are probably younger than me. By reading this, you are reading the work of an out gay writer who wants to see every young gay person be able to grow up, live their lives openly, go to gay bars safely, and yes, maybe even write for SparkLife. So if you’re gay, share your stories below. If you’re straight, share your thoughts about what you can do to stop hate. Get it out in the open, because that’s the first step to ending hate.