By Michael Kimpan
There is so much to say, and yet mere words are inefficient. Hollow. Empty.
speaking of solidarity without concrete action is meaningless.
The past 72 hours have been tremendously disturbing to many people of various shades and stripes - some resorting to polarized rhetoric in an attempt to find a common enemy, with others believing we’re better together.
News of the horrific Orlando attack has triggered a response in all of us - anger, sadness, loss, anxiety, even hatred - which, one friend rightly says, is but a pawn of the emotion of fear.
In my neighborhood, each of these emotions - and more - are palpable. As prejudice and violence do to any community caught in their crosshairs, my LGBTQ friends and neighbors are grappling with the implications of such bad news, and pause to consider their own safety at our own bars and nightclubs a few days before our own Pride Parade on our own streets.
In our own neighborhood.
And yet, even here in Boystown, in the midst of the grieving and mourning and vigils to show solidarity and provide support, there is a message that is being repeated over. And over. And over.
It isn't a message of fear, or hatred, or even sadness.
It’s a message of Love.
The message of Love brings the warmth of light and life into a situation stained with so much unnecessary death. One can sense the collective conscience of this community refusing to give into fear or hate, but choosing instead to keep them at bay in the shadow of Love's true light.
The chalked up sidewalks of our neighborhood hold hope-fueled messages of Love winning the day. Notes at memorials remind us of the best in humanity and what we’re capable of together, even in the face of such horrible trauma and pain.
Love is stronger than hate.
That’s good news in the midst of a week infused with so much bad news.
Our television and social media newsfeeds have been filled with typically toxic political, polarizing, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, pro-gun rhetoric.
There’s unsurprisingly plenty of bad news in the blogosphere and Twitter-verse following an attack on American soil from a radicalized individual who specifically targeted a crowded gay bar and began firing his semi-automatic rifle into what was believed to be a place of sanctuary, of safety, of celebration. 49 unsuspecting young people died in a place they thought would be safe, a place for them to simply be themselves, a place to live their lives in authenticity and acceptance - even pride - in simply being who they had been created to be.
Yet these breathed their last this weekend, and many more were injured.
We've all been traumatized.
As one person tweeted, ‘If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.’
Not all the responses to the Orlando attacks have been helpful, particularly from conservative religious communities - but that’s a topic for another post, at another time.
During times like these, I suspect it’s unhelpful to highlight the voices who continue to make dehumanizing statements about LGBTQ people, or the Muslim community, or the immigrant community. As my friend Gareth Higgins says, ‘We already know such people exist. We need solidarity, and reminders that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.’
In that spirit, many leaders are calling their own communities forward with a call to choose Love. I’ve been heartened by the outpouring of these voices rising in a chorus of support and solidarity, encouraging us in response to this tragedy to practice the better.
One such voice is that of Staceyann Chin, who spoke at a vigil monday evening at the Center on Halsted (video and transcript below). Her voice rang clear through the room and poured out into the street, moving the crowd to both tears and applause in response to her call to action - to choose love.
In 1997, I came to the shores of these United States of America because it wasn’t safe for me to live as an out lesbian in my own country, Jamaica.
I remember landing alone, uncertain, in a tiny city called New York City. Within weeks, I fell into the arms of other feminists and activists and other LGBT people who believed in the global fight for freedom. It was here, in this country, I learned to use my words, my voice, to speak out against bigotry and prejudice and injustice and discrimination wherever it happens, whenever it happens, to whomever it happens.
I can hardly believe it’s been 20 years. So much has happened in the wake of our collective struggle, LGBT people in more and more countries can now marry the love of our choosing. We can openly hold a public office, hold hands, adopt children. We are more secure in our jobs. Many of us are completely accepted by our communities.
So effective has been our march toward progress, so steady has been our faith in the power of change, that we were just a little bit amused when the radical right began its new wave of shenanigans in Mississippi and North Carolina and Tennessee. We were certain good sense would prevail in this country. We were sure the world was changing faster, and we knew we would eventually win.
Gun violence has never been part and parcel of the LGBT agenda. Semi-automatic weapons were never ours to argue. Even after our president, our first black president, begged the nation —13 times after 13 mass shootings — after he begged us 13 times to address this issue of gun control, as a group, it never became our fight.
But when the unthinkable news of this lone gunman’s actions rippled across the airwaves, when in this, the 14th shooting since 2008, when almost 50 us — 50 of us — 50 of us became the target of one such weapon (it’s really 100 more of us became the target of one such weapon), we were shaken from our complacency, jolted from our rooted revelry, shocked to watch the deliberate marching back of progress.
After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.
As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.
These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
We are all just yearning to breathe free, in public or private. I have always wanted to follow my own heart. I imagine that’s what they wanted, too, these young people. That’s all they wanted: To be true to the drum-beating human inside their own chests.
Their deaths will always be remembered as senseless. In the horror of their quiet breaths, let us begin the celebration of their lives by acknowledging that these words are never enough.
No matter what say here today, it will never be enough to tell the story of their deaths or their lives. Always, there’s always more to say about the departed. These young people whose lives will eventually become fodder for political blathers and ideological arguments. These bodies laying still, not dancing not smiling, will join the too long list of these victims of mass shootings that happen in American. Too often, this happens in America. Too often, it has been happening in America to the most vulnerable among us.
The most vulnerable among us pay the greatest price, and the rest of us are left to ask the question again and again and again, “Where, where, where does this healing begin?”
In the face of 49 lives snuffed out, how do we make sense of such a senseless thing? The answer — the answer is what it has always been.
We pick up the pieces of each other. As always, we turn left, we turn right, we reach behind us and we find each other, and we continue to find love. Against these crazy odds, we should revel in the unfaltering ability to be human, to hold each other, to heal each other. In sorrow we should weep and smile and celebrate the fact of our own breathing.
If there was ever a year to wave that rainbow flag — if there was ever a year to wave that rainbow flag — this is it.
This is it. This is a good year to celebrate Pride. Even if you have been so over it. This is a good year to be out, to be proud.
This is the cornerstone of every mark of progress, and our community has always been committed to progress.
So today — regardless of those who revel in this — today is no different from yesterday or tomorrow. All through the month of June, all through the years we have left to live, I dare you.
I dare you LGBTABCDQ alphabet soup, I dare you to find your flag. Find your rainbow. Find your loud. Wave your freedom proud.
I dare you to speak your feelings of pride, of solidarity. I dare you from this moment to live who you are, for these 49, for North Carolina, for yourselves, for Orlando, for (indiscernible) —
For Stonewall and for Selma, for the LGBT community I left 20 years ago in Jamaica. For Kenya, for Uganda, for this country, for all of us. In order to heal, for every person living on this planet, we have to fight the fury of those who would rather see us dead. Let us rack against the powers that push against freedom, let us rage. Let us rally.
Let us rally against the powers that push against freedom. Let us rage, but let us also lobby for change in these gun laws and in discrimination laws.
Let us fight for more spaces where all our bodies can be safe. Let us push against unjust laws that seek to turn back the hands of time.
In memory of these nearly 50 dead, I dare you to live even louder, to be even more proud of who you are. Let us together lift our voices, our spirits. Let us shout out so everybody on this planet can hear the awesome power of the human heart.
To choose love. To choose love. I dare you to choose love.
That’s good news. That we can do. Choose Love.
* If you're in or near the Chicago area during Pride Weekend, please consider joining me and my friends from Center for Inclusivity as we #MakeLoveLouder - our tongue-in-cheek, counter-protest campaign at this year's Pride Parade! We'll station ourselves directly in front of the police-protected, cordoned-off protest area, offering a message of support and solidarity with paraders--in contrast to the message of shame and stigma from those behind us. More info here.
Michael Kimpan has a proven history of helping individuals and institutions think critically about matters of faith and culture through his writing, teaching and consulting with churches, organizations, higher education institutions, and not-for-profit organizations. He has a BA in Youth Ministry and Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and continued his seminary training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Michael is a prolific contributor to Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians website, and has written numerous articles for other in print and online publications such as Relevant Magazine and patheos.com.