I lived in Orlando for nearly four years. My time there was filled with laughter, twinkling lights, and lots of Vitamin D.
I remember late nights at Parliament House and free concerts at Lake Eola. I remember "summer" poolside BBQ's in February, with temperatures already reaching the low 80's. I recall thick, juicy burgers at Graffiti Junktion and volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with my coworkers.
I treasure those memories. Each one of them.
Every time a blizzard hits Denver, or I look at my monthly rent bill, or I make a futile attempt to find some decent Mexican food in the Mile-High City (I miss you, Garibaldi's on Semoran!), I joke that I'm moving back to the House of Mouse. Also known as O-Town. Also known as The City Beautiful.
That last nickname is my favorite. In light of recent events, it holds special meaning. Orlando really is a gorgeous place. The city's beauty lies not only in its majestic palm trees or colorful city lights, but also in the hearts of its residents, who are currently mourning a tragic loss.
I don't think any of us will ever understand the fury behind the senseless act committed last weekend, because we have souls capable of empathy and compassion. The gunman clearly did not.
In my opinion, this type of mass murder can only be accomplished by someone who has forgotten what it means to be human. Only when a person sheds his ability to empathize can he perform an act this grotesque.
The man who opened fire in Pulse caused so much unnecessary destruction. Yet he cannot distort my fond Orlando memories, nor can he remove the solidarity and hope still thriving among MCO's residents.
About half of my friends in Orlando are gay. They are amazing people. I love them for who they are...and they love me for being my dorky, loud, filter-less self.
Like the 49 victims of Sunday's heinous act, we often danced until the clubs shut down for the night. This shooting could have easily happened to my buddies. It could have happened to me.
Fortunately, my friends were not at Pulse the night of this heartbreaking tragedy. Unfortunately, 49 innocent people were killed inside the club. Their friends and families cannot say the same.
I sincerely hope my buddies never have to feel the sting of hatred, or question going to a dance club because of the possibility they'll be targeted by a psychopath. These hopes seem wildly unrealistic, though; the truth is, intolerance still exists in this world. I don't understand it, I don't condone it, and I will not allow it to be mentioned in my presence. But it does exist. Sadly.
Right now, I believe the best thing the LGBTQ community can do is use this horrific act to build strength and unity. Sure, some people might not stand behind you. But there are TONS of folks who do support you. Including me. I am so proud of the community's response to this shooting. Many people have spread messages of compassion and respect. They have shown solidarity, strength, and hope. The outpouring of love in the wake of this egregious act has been nothing short of amazing.
The response has been so powerful. Yet I have one special request for my friends: please, please hold your heads high. Do not live in fear. Sure, that's easier said than done...but if you let this unspeakable act deter you from fully enjoying your lives, then the bad guys win.
Orlando experienced a devastating loss this weekend; 49 souls left the planet far too soon. This shooting rampage caused so much destruction. However, if the gunman thought he would break Orlando's spirit, he was wrong. The City Beautiful will not be shaken. Orlando (and all the city’s supporters, worldwide) will emerge as strong and stunning as ever.