“This was the place to be. This is where I learned — to be me.”
The man trembled and broke down saying those words as we sat on that parking bumper in front of the Pulse Night Club in Orlando a few days ago. Wearing a blue tank top, grey shorts, and white sneakers he roamed from one side of the parking lot to the other reading the notes of encouragement and looking at pictures of the deceased. He was away with the military and hadn’t had a chance to come back home. And now, in front of his old temple, instead of promotion for the next event he found a wall around the place with pictures and words remembering the 49 who were killed and the 53 who were injured because they were gay or gay friendly. Our lips quivered, our eyes teared, and our insides vibrated at the same frequency. At that moment . . . as two perfect strangers . . . we had something in common—an agonizing pain for that and those we had lost.
The religious population that opposes gay marriage still don’t get what happened that night. It wasn’t just about “another radical Muslim shooting up the place.” Gay bars are not just the hangouts for gays, they are a sacred place where the LGBT young and old can get together and feel comfortable enough in their own skin to explore without judging eyes looking down on them for being “weird.” In these sanctuaries of freedom these beautiful souls are praised for being “fabulous.
Every gay and lesbian in America, and the world, was at Pulse that night. Those who have been bashed. Those who have been beaten. Those who have been ridiculed and cast away. Those who have attempted suicide and those who have lost someone to AIDS. Those who at one point in their lives, and even to this day, have felt “different.” Gay bars are the place where many of us learned to be ourselves—often in secret. And there is nothing more crucial than learning to be me.
I talked to several people in Orlando and tried to piece the story together. Some said that the killer was a regular at these bars (Pulse, Stonewall, Southern Nights, Parliament House, etc), that they had identified him as a “nice guy,” and that some had even slept with him—now afraid to say it out loud. This dude hated himself, believing what he felt was wrong, because he saw himself through the reflection of that mirror which is religious opinion. And that my friends, can be a nasty image.
Some have tried their best to move on. They play, they flirt, they dance. Yet some have suffered deep repercussions that time has yet to heal.
The day after the attack all other gay bars were packed. Police gathered to protect us. We weren’t going back in hiding after we had taken down so many barriers. Take that bitches! Being me is not something to be ashamed of, scared of, nor something to apologize for. It wasn’t just about that one crazy guy with guns. It was about every other homophobic individual who hides behind the veil of “scripture says so.” Every time being gay is called a sin, mental illness, disgusting, unnatural, and weird, we keep polishing that mirror of guilt and self-hate and loading up the next gun forcing some other weak and susceptible mind into proving their manhood by following strict interpretations of faith.
There is no love in saying we are welcomed into your church but have to eventually become straight. There is no wisdom in saying you’re not homophobic but just follow the Bible. And there is no humanity in casting someone aside because they look different than those around you.
I am ashamed of my Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific University, for their “compassionate accountability” policy. It is nothing but an example of dogma contradicting nature. You cannot call yourselves an institution of higher education unless you rise above the pits of discrimination.
I am ashamed of the churches I attended:
- Siete Olivos, in Mexicali, Mexico which taught me that gays are disgusting.
- HRock Church, in Pasadena, CA which teaches LGBT can’t raise children.
- Christ’s Church of the Valley, in San Dimas, CA. I sat in the audience when you preached that “the Bible clearly states that the practice of homosexual activity, like all other sexual sins, is morally wrong and in fact destructing to any culture in society.”
I am ashamed of the Foursquare Church, in Baja California, Mexico. I sat in your conferences and you taught me homosexuality is an “abomination,” that “AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality,” and that it probably started when gays “had sex with monkeys.”
And I am ashamed of The United Methodist Church that still chooses to pay more attention to whom people love than to why their young are leaving. They force believers into a model of faith set up in a culture which predates social awakening.
You made me hurt my own by preaching against myself. You made me doubt and waste my life trying to achieve a fake idea of holiness. I could have been that psycho repressing all my feelings and identity to fit the model you sold me as the only pathway to heaven. I could have been a bastard running into The Abbey in West Hollywood to prove to the world that Jesus is love and that I was a man. Because you can’t preach love with one hand and ask us to deny ourselves with the other. Are you crazy?!
Pulse still beats inside of us. I am gay, I am free, and I am alive, all at the same time. I dare you to call me mentally ill, sinful, and weird as you preach your love. Visit a gay bar this weekend and you’ll see that regardless of how much you keep indoctrinating your flock into casual hate, in our beauty, in our freedom, in our flare, that’s where you will feel our PULSE.
For the full story on my journey through religion and sexual identity, you may read my book “To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason.”