On June 12, 2016, just 37 days ago, Omar Mateen, 29, walked into Pulse, an Orlando nightclub, and killed 49 people, injuring over 50. After the attack, America was thrown right back into the never-ending gun control debate. Since then, there have been attacks in Istanbul, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, an attack in Nice, France, a shooting in Dallas and what's been dubbed as a police ambush in Baton Rouge. Though it's been just 37 days since the attack at Pulse nightclub, it’s not lost on the LGBTQIA+ community that in addition to this being as an act of terror against the freedoms we in the United States enjoy, this gunman walked into a gay club and killed people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Over the next week, details about the lives lost in the Pulse shooting were all over the news. Along with the information on the victims came information on the shooter. However, what I saw among friends and on social media was an overwhelming push to support the victims’ families. From information on how to donate blood to organizations that would help families travel to Orlando, communities came together to support one another. I'd lived in Florida for 8 months and after hearing about the attack, I rushed to Facebook to see if my friends were OK. When I heard that the shooting had taken place at a gay club, my stomach sank.
Moving forward and trying to rebuild from this night is going to be tough, especially for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. The country needs time to heal. Parents need to explain what happened that night to their kids, which is tough in any situation like this. How do we tell children about a loss of life, let alone 50 lives? They'll see it on the news, they'll see it on their computers — so how are they going to process this? LGBTQIA+ parents are faced with a few different options. Do they explain that many of the people like them who identify as LGBTQIA+ were killed? Or do they explain the bare minimum in a situation like this? Each parent will approach this differently. A lot of the decision-making in this situation depends on the child and their family. However, it's important to remember children are people. They do understand and they do empathize.
With all this in mind, Romper asked parents in the LGBTQIA+ community it’s like to be a parent after Orlando. The following are email and phone conversations I had with seven parents.
Margaret J., 29
Margaret has two children: Riley, 7, and Beck, 6.
“As a parent, at first, I just wanted to hold my children even closer than I already was. We're still unpacking being black in America, and having to now talk about being queer on top of that... It feels like it’s too heavy [for them to understand right now]. Too heavy for a 6 and 7 year old to carry. Except, the response has been overwhelming and beautiful. I want my children to see that. To see the world, come together and surround a community of people with love. That that is how you respond to tragedy. That you gather around each other, you celebrate who you are louder than before, and you stand taller than you did.
My country values the right for the mentally ill, the criminal, the terrorist sympathizers, and the violent radicals to carry guns more than my country values my right to safety. Or my wife's right to safety. Or my children's right to safety.
"Because who you are deserves to be seen, even if some disagree with that. There are so many that need to see others like themselves, living proudly, so that they may too, live this way. Because of what happened in Orlando, I called my mom and told her I was queer, and I told my children this, and they were excited with me. This is what I want them to remember from what happened."
Rae has two children: Zaiden, 4 years old, and Frankie Mae, 6 months old.
“The last time I felt as shaken and devastated as I do now was when I heard the news about Sandy Hook. I was at work. I had a 4-month-old baby at home. I just kept saying over and over again, ‘Those weren't his babies. He had no right to take those babies.’ And now, Orlando. I am married to a woman. My children have two moms. We are visibly gay. We hold hands and kiss in public, go dancing in gay clubs, walk through each day of our lives as a loving, married, gay couple. Strangers approach me on the street to ask which one of us is the ‘real mom.’ I get tapped on the shoulder to be told, ‘I don't judge your lifestyle, but I hope you know how important it is to make sure your kids have a man in their lives.’
“I've had it way f*cking easy compared to countless, beautiful queers out there. I pass as straight when I'm not with my wife. I benefit from straight privilege because I'm femme. I have it f*cking easy. And still, that could have been me or my wife or any of our queer friends in that club. My children could be orphans today if it weren't for geography. Geography. That's it. Sandy Hook decimated me as a new mother. Orlando has left me in pieces as a queer woman. Those people are me and I am them and I am watching as they get slaughtered and executed because people who have no business owning or operating guns are free to buy them on a whim. My country values the right for the mentally ill, the criminal, the terrorist sympathizers, and the violent radicals to carry guns more than my country values my right to safety. Or my wife's right to safety. Or my children's right to safety.
Love wins every time.
“My son and I already talk about gender issues, as well as the meaning and importance of consent in all settings. Following his lead, we have just started delving into death and dying, discrimination, and violence. My knee-jerk is to sweep these things away, leave the path in front of him clean, and do everything I can to make sure he stays as pure as he is today for as long as I can. But what I have found is that when I follow his lead, he is ready. Orlando changed everything. I want him to know that there are people out there who hate his moms simply because we are both women who are in love. I want him to digest that information in his quickly growing, ever changing, and completely innocent brain. I want him to tell me what he thinks about that. Why that might be. What could be done differently. How he thinks it should be. How he can contribute transforming his ideas into reality. I want him to know that sometimes people are so sick with anger or fear or sorrow or hate that they hurt other people, hurt them so badly that they never get better and that their families are left to pick up the pieces of their hearts and will never be the same ever again. I want him to practice empathy and tell me how he would feel if he lost someone, what he could do if he ever felt so angry, afraid, sad, or hateful that he didn't know where to turn, and what he thinks about people that have committed these atrocities.
"He is so much more brilliant than I am in so many ways. I want to stop hiding him from the world, trust him to tell me what he needs to know and when, and then let him tell me what he believes the truth to be. He and I can dream up solutions together, plan ways to take action and be a part of the healing, and talk about the really hard stuff like how to look at our own prejudices, judgments, and impulses to cause harm.
“Orlando changed everything. It no longer feels like enough to model compassion and honesty and gratitude for my children. I look at those 49 faces and I feel certain that they deserve more. I will sit down with my children and face the truth with them. I will not send them off into the world naive, alone, and ashamed of the darkest parts of themselves. I will be honest with them and I will do my best to help shape two more people who will go out into the world to help, to heal, to forgive, and to create change.”
Ellen M., 58
Ellen has one child, Maya, 15.
“[I’m] sad, sad, and very proud of our community and of how we are responding to this tragedy. I worry a bit that my daughter may be scared that LGBTQ people are being targeted elsewhere, but she has not brought it up and does not seem at all concerned.
My daughter (Maya) is 15. She's aware of what happened in a vague way. She is on the autism spectrum and not at all a typical 15 year old. I did talk with her briefly about the shootings right after they happened. We discussed gun control and the fact that it's legal here to buy a semi-automatic weapon that can take out dozens of people very quickly. She's aware that most of the victims were LGBTQIA+, but if she made the connection between them and her parents, she didn't mention it and I didn't point it out explicitly. She hasn't brought up the topic since then, although she has overheard my partner and I talking about going to a vigil for the victims. She asked what a "vigil" was and understood that it was to honor the victims of the Orlando massacre. She hasn't asked any more questions about it.
I ask my kids if they know about certain major incidents that happen in the world, regardless of the victims. I need to know they are paying attention.
"It's refreshing to see a more unified media and political response in the wake of the massacre than what we saw during the AIDS crisis, for example. There seems to be more-or-less universal horror and condemnation of the attack, with many many straight allies (both individuals and organizations) expressing support and unity. No public figure (that I know of) is calling it "divine retribution" for an evil "lifestyle." Instead, it is framed as America Under Attack. So we've gone from being actively ignored, unwanted, and condemned to representing all that is great about our country. Now we represent freedom and the celebration of diversity! Well, it's about time — and horrible that it took a tragedy like this to get us to this place.
"I don't know what it means for the future, but I hope we can continue to build on the unity that has emerged in the wake of the shootings."
Laura has three kids, 36, 17, and 15.
I am a lesbian in a same-sex marriage with three children. One is grown (36) and two are teens (17 and 15), so they are aware of the shootings in Orlando and of some of the outreach and backlash toward the LGBTQIA+ community in the aftermath. As a gay person, I'm not afraid for my life. Even with the shootings and incidents that happen closer to home (hate crimes in Philly, for example), I don’t really consider the fact that I could be a target of violence because of my sexuality. I do feel that I have been and could be a victim of ignorance and discrimination, but again, not violence. With that said, I do have a mental list of places overseas to which I will not travel, but here at home in New Jersey, I am comfortable being me.
We got the right to marry and everyone was like 'everything’s fine and equal.' And it’s not. It’s still not. I think [the attack in Orlando] makes that clear that it’s still not. There’s still a lot of work to do.
"I asked my 17-year-old daughter if she ever thought that her parents could be the victims of violence, and she said no. The same from my 15-year-old, but she added that, “You and mommy don’t go clubbing, so the shooting didn’t make me afraid for you.” I ask my kids if they know about certain major incidents that happen in the world, regardless of the victims. I need to know they are paying attention. In our house, this incident was no different. It was horrible and tragic, but was not treated any differently than the other horrible attacks that have occurred over the past few years.
"Because the legalization of same-sex marriage came right before 2016 election, we have the perfect storm of push-back and hatred. However, we still won. Yes, restrictive laws still exist and the fight continues for true equality, but our future is bright. Love wins every time. It has a cost: lives, time, energy, money, but in my college classes just eight years ago, students were writing papers about same-sex marriage that ended with, “I won’t see gay marriage in my lifetime.” But the community’s response is louder and it is taken more seriously than when terrible things happened in years past. We have a voice in the U.S. and it forces people to listen and to act. But will this shooting be any different when it comes to gun control laws. If Sandy Hook didn’t do it, I am doubtful that this will.
Colleen has 2 kids, Luke, 14, and Molly, 12
Colleen had her kids in the room when I spoke with her on speakerphone.
Colleen: "I think it’s sort of interesting because of their ages. They are tuned in to what’s going on. They knew about it before I even talked to them about it. They did not take it as an LGBT issue at all. I think for them, it lead them into the gun control debate. That’s where they went with it, which I thought was kind of interesting. Each of them, they have very different opinions."
Her son: "There should be better background checks. It takes longer to get a passport than it does to get a gun."
Colleen: "I think it’s just as frightening as a school shooting. I just think — I don’t know — every generation has had a period of time where they don’t feel safe. I think it’s important to just continue to life your life and do what you’re doing and not live in fear. None of those kids could change that. I guess if they didn’t go out that night, but then they would never do anything. You can’t live that way. I worry about [my kids] because I suppose, you know, I worry about myself. I’ve been lucky, because I never really had any comments directed towards me that were hateful. It’s been relatively easy in that way. It’s scary, but I don’t know what you can do about it. Just live your everyday life.
We are going to have to discuss violence, homophobia, racism, and the like much sooner than we will feel ready for.
"I think a lot of people have tried to make this not an LGBTQIA+ issue, like if you look at Facebook and things like that, a lot of people tend to make this an American issue. I think it devalues the 'hate' part of it. This was directed towards one particular group of people. I think it’s important to not ignore that. I think it has been a little bit swept under. We got the right to marry and everyone was like 'everything’s fine and equal.' And it’s not. It’s still not. I think [the attack in Orlando] makes that clear that it’s still not. There’s still a lot of work to do."
Suzelle has three 10-year-old children.
"We are a married lesbian couple with three 10-year-old kids. Our children are very interested in what happens in the world and we don't shelter them from every little thing like some parents do. Rashawn and I do struggle with finding the right balance between what they need to know to stay safe and what they don't yet need to be exposed to in the world we live in today.
"[We're] lucky to say we each have very supportive work environments that my wife and I both thrive in, and we never take that for granted. We try to keep compassion at the forefront of the kids' daily life lessons and of course, they have no capacity for discrimination in their little minds just yet and hopefully never will."
Katherine has a son who is 1 year old.
“Honestly, I feel shaken up as a queer person, and also hyper-aware of my privilege as a white queer person, right now. I'm feeling oddly relieved that my kid is so little so I don't have to sit him down and explain all of this at the moment. But it makes me aware that we are going to have to discuss violence, homophobia, racism, and the like much sooner than we will feel ready for.”