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It’s been a year since my friend was killed in Orlando

It’s been a year since my friend was killed in Orlando

Edward Sotomayor Jr was a victim of the Pulse Orlando Shootings.

A bunch of friends have posted on social media that they’re logging off the digital world today.

Many of them are finding it too hard to face 12 June, 2017. This date marks one year since we lost a friend in a mass shooting, terrorist attack that targeted the LGBTI and Latinx community.

Our friend, Edward Sotomayor Jr, was one of the 49 people murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year.

I woke up to the news on the Monday morning of a long weekend marking the Queen’s birthday in Australia. It had been a fun and very gay weekend, going to parties, hanging out with friends and capping it off going to see Culture Club in concert.

But after every high, there’s the inevitable comedown. I woke up on the Monday morning in Australia to see my friend’s name as a victim of one of the worst mass shooting in the United States’ history.

I read the name Edward Sotomayor Jr in a tweet and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

That’s when the calls and messages started coming through. Our mutual friends were reaching out to to share the horrible news and to console each other.

Natural reaction

I was shellshocked for the morning and didn’t really feel anything until I was standing alone at Sydney’s Newtown station where I burst into tears waiting for a train.

That Monday morning I was supposed to see a bunch of films at the Sydney Film Festival, but instead I head into the office.

At the time I was working as the senior journalist for the Star Observer, Australia’s oldest LGBTI news publication.

I sat alone in the office and just kept crying. Eventually, I penned a piece for the Star Observer website in tribute to ‘Top Hat Eddie’ as my friend was known.

I didn’t even think about what I was writing and just shared my initial reaction to the Orlando tragedy. I hit publish and within hours my story was getting a lot of attention. It was republished on other news sites around the world, I was invited to do television and radio interviews in the UK, Australia and Canada.

The attention made me feel a sense of impostor syndrome because I wasn’t a close friend of Eddie- I probably couldn’t tell you his parents’ names or what his favorite food was – but I did know and had a lot of time for him.

The week after the shootings I was working alone in the office because all our other editorial staff were on annual leave, so I was forced to keep writing about Orlando. Dealing with my friend’s death and continually having to write about the tragic event would eventually send me into a spiral of grief that took me many months to get over.

Do we ever feel better?

I thought I was feeling better about it all, but in the lead up to today’s anniversary I have started feeling emotional and overwhelmed again.

Maybe the emotion comes from the fact I lost a friend in such shocking circumstances – it’s the first time I’ve been so directly affected by terrorism or a mass shooting.

But I’ve been reflecting on why Eddie’s death impacted me so much. And I really believe that beyond losing a friend, the targeted attack on the LGBTI community shook me to my core.

It made me sad that our community continues to be a target for hate and it made me angry that we’re not protected even in what are supposed to be our safe spaces.

But what has happened is that I’ve learned a very valuable lesson in the past year.

The reality is we are living in a world that is facing increased terrorist attacks and violence against LGBTI people.

Rather than succumb to them, I can decide that fear and hate end with me because life can be very short.

With a little help from my friends

I can say what did help me immensely was the support of my friends, especially my LGBTI crew.

So many people consoled me and supported me through my grief, whether it was bringing me a coffee or sending me messages, even standing with me as we had to listen to the list of the victims’ names read out at every event in town.

Whether it is because the LGBTI community are more disenfranchised than other groups and therefore more able to be empathetic, I was truly touched at the community’s ability to support one another during tough times.

The LGBTI community can be an example for others to prove love triumphs over hate.

Also, if you’ve been there for me in the past year, just know that I appreciate you very much.

One year on