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Orlando shooting: How can we take comfort when it feels the world’s in chaos?

Orlando shooting: How can we take comfort when it feels the world’s in chaos?

The vigil for the Orlando shooting in Austin, Texas.

In Seoul last Saturday, the day before the Orlando shooting, a group of parents gave hugs to LGBTIs at Korea’s Queer Culture Festival.

They gave hugs because they knew their kids were victims of hate and they knew love was the answer.

In the week that was to follow, our LGBTI community, in the US and around the world was to experience both hate and love in an unprecedented way.

In the early hours of next morning, hundreds of people were enjoying a Latin night at gay club Pulse. RuPaul’s Drag Race star Kenya Michaels was performing and later shared this picture.

Kenya Michaels inside Pulse before Orlando shooting.
Kenya Michaels performed at Pulse on the night of the shooting

 

Minutes later Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire. He murdered 49 and injured 53 before he was killed by police.

But those bare facts don’t tell of the terror people in the club were to face over the next couple of hours.

Eddie Justice, 30, hid in the restroom to escape the shooting and texted his mom for around an hour. When Mateen entered his hiding place, he messaged her: ‘Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us. Hurry. He’s in the bathroom with us… He’s a terror.’

Norman Casiano, 26, also hid in a stall in the bathroom. Unlike Eddie, he would survive. He later told reporters: ‘And he’s laughing as he fires through the whole front of the stall. That’s when I got my first wound.’

It was a night of heroes. A 24-year-old former Marine turned bouncer at Pulse, Imran Yousef, ‘took a chance’ to access a back door and helped save 70 lives.

And Joshua McGill, 26, a nursing student used his training too. While trying to escape the nightclub he came across a man, Rodney, who had been shot. Joshua used his own shirt as a tourniquet to try to stop the bleeding and was able to lead him to safety.

Forty-four victims were brought to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Nine died within minutes of arriving. On the last update, 12 have been sent home. Six are in critical condition, three in guarded condition and 14 are stable. Florida Hospital also has five patients in fair condition.

Surgeons have performed more than 50 operations on the victims.

Dr Joshua Corsa, Senior Resident, Department of Surgery at the medical center posted a picture of his blood-soaked shoes on Facebook.

 

The blood-soaked shoes worn by Orlando surgeon Dr Joshua Corsa.
The blood-soaked shoes worn by Orlando surgeon Dr Joshua Corsa.

He said: ‘They came to us in wave upon wave of suffering, screaming, and death. And somehow, in that chaos, doctors, nurses, technicians, police, paramedics, and others, performed super human feats of compassion and care.’

Thousands queued under the hot sun to give blood.

To write 49 obituaries and do each life justice is impossible. Let alone to tell the stories of all those who escaped and survived; physically injured and traumatized. But the few personal stories that have emerged have moved hearts around the world.

Christopher ‘Drew’ Leinonen, 32 and Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, had been living together for two years. They were due to get married. Now their families are planning a joint funeral.

Brenda Marquez McCool, was a mom and an irrepressible advocate for the LGBTI community. She had survived cancer but couldn’t survive this. She leaves behind 11 children.

Naturally attention focused on the gunman. Mateen, we learned, had been to Pulse before and may have been ‘gay’ – or rather bisexual, as he had a wife and an ex-wife.

We heard he pledged allegiance to Islamic State and they claimed him as one of their ‘soldiers’ although officials are dubious he was taking orders from IS.

We will, eventually, know far more about Mateen’s motives. But as rational people, we will never be able to understand them – such evil defies reason.

Generating most headlines of all was Mateen’s father’s suggestion the shooting may have related to him witnessing two men kissing. The response from gay men – #twomenkissing – was beautiful.

 

People are posting images of #TwoMenKissing all over the world
People are posting images of #TwoMenKissing all over the world

Vigils from Aberdeen in the north of Scotland to Hobart in the south of Tasmania, and particularly in the US, were hastily organized. Everyone cooperated to make them happen, nobody tried to take the credit. It was the best of LGBTI community organizing. And the crowds were huge.

We came to mourn, to show solidarity to Orlando, to LGBTIs around the world and to LGBTI Muslims. They gave us a chance to express our sorrow but also our defiance and hope.

The vigils took place, for the most part, in our ‘gay’ villages. Places of safety and joy, like the one Mateen had invaded. But we refuse to live in fear.

Practical help was on hand too. In just four days, 105,077 people have donated $5,091,624 (€4,531,932) to the victims. It’s the fastest-growing charitable crowdfunding effort ever and will certainly now be the biggest.

There have also been big corporate donations from Disney, Target and a $1,000,000 donation from billionaire Mark Cuban to protect the LGBT community in the city of Dallas where he owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

With so many victims, every cent will be needed.

Britain’s lesbian poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, fought back with a beautiful poem.

People even responded with humor. A message warning the NRA the LGBTI community may now engage on gun control was widely shared. It read: ‘These queens get shit done.’

That is, of course, true. The movement for global LGBTI rights has been among the fastest and greatest in human history – and achieved almost entirely through peaceful protest, legal challenge, political change and reasoned argument.

Contrast that to our opponents. Arizona Pastor Steven Anderson of Westboro Baptist Church embraced Mateen’s violence and called his victims ‘perverts and pedophiles’.

Anderson’s remarks remind us that LGBTI people are victims of hate and violence today and will be tomorrow. That the horrific, unprecedented events of Sunday morning are part of a bigger picture.

This week we’ve seen the casual homophobia of Liam Gallagher describing Russian football fans as ‘batty boys’, the institutionalized hate of the Kenyan courts saying their police can anally torture gay men, and violent transphobia unleashed in Belgian against a man who was stabbed in a suspected IS-inspired attack.

Against legalized rape and brutal violence, our weapons – reason, solidarity, truth, humor and love – can seem wholly insufficient. But then I remember the words of that Orlando surgeon, Dr Corsa: ‘After the worst of humanity reared its evil head, I saw the best of humanity come fighting right back.’

That’s what we’ve witnessed in the communities of Orlando and in our global LGBTI community this week. And that’s why we can be certain the Pulse shooting will define us going forward – not as victims but as victors.

Tris is editor and co-founder of Gay Star News.