I don't often wake at my parent's house these days but this past Sunday I did. Staggering downstairs bleary eyed for breakfast my Mother handed me a cup of tea and asked me if I had seen the news from Orlando. Accessing the Twitter news feed, it took me no longer than a few seconds to ascertain that something dreadful was unfolding in Orlando.
At this point no fatalities were confirmed but multiple sources were confirming the now all too familiar role of 'active shooter.'
I became concerned about my extended LGBT+ family living in Florida and zapped off a few messages to check their whereabouts and well-being. As it transpired all were thankfully safe at home monitoring the unfolding events in horror, fearing for their own friends working and playing in the Orlando area.
As our bright UK Sunday morning rolled over into a thunderous Sunday evening it became abundantly clear that somewhere out there over the Atlantic many of our fellow human beings would not live to see the Orlando sunrise and many more still would suffer appalling life-changing injuries and trauma.
Christine Leinonen's desperate search for her son Christopher, later confirmed as victim of shooter Omar Mateen was widely shown on news channels and immediately became an indelible reminder that for every grown up child murdered in the world there are whole networks of affection attached to that person whose names and suffering go unknown.
Across social media panic, misinformation and speculation empowered many to make assumptions, in turn often facilitating prejudicial and hateful remarks at the very same moment that some partygoers lay dying on a dancefloor. Others chose to use the unfolding tragedy to make political gain and with tedious predictability one would be president took to social media with a spectacularly misjudged Tweet.
Sadly in my 48 years on planet Earth I have had the horror of watching too many of these events unfold in real time, from disasters at football stadiums to bombing and shootings. I never cease to be saddened at the behavior of some human beings in times of crisis and social media (whilst being a potentially vast reservoir for good in the world) is too often hi-jacked by those wishing to make personal, political or theological gain, even as the smoking barrel is still blasting terrified innocent souls from their bodies.
It is of course part of the human condition that our minds want to weave stories from limited information, to fill in the gaps using whatever means necessary, even if it involves filling the void with our anxieties, fears and prejudices-I do it too. The choice for us as individuals however is how we manage and communicate these thoughts and feelings, especially in public forums. The intention of the terrorist is to instill fear and drive individuals and groups apart. Many of the comments expressed publically on social media during the Orlando and other recent atrocities (whilst of course triggered by very valid emotions) play into the very division of humanity that hate-mongers crave.
A mindful approach to responding these acts of violence helps one to validate and process ones immediate emotional response to traumatic acts and can provide a useful buffer between our immediate emotional response and a more considered response less likely to play into the hands of those wishing to nurture chaos. It is of course natural to be upset, distraught and angry, but how we chose to express this anger is a choice and if borne with dignity and restraint we can, even as one individual begin to shine a light where it is most needed.
This week many thousands of LGBT+ and non LGBT+ people around the stood around the world unified in dignified silence, defiance and solidarity against hate, prejudice and violence. LGBT+ prejudice is not someone else's problem, it is not just an issue in Russia, Uganda or the United States, it is present in all our lives whether we choose to see it or not. This is why education is still so urgently needed in our schools and communities and this is why I do the work I do in our education systems in the UK and abroad.
As I stood in Soho this week hand in hand with my partner and watched 49 balloons slowly ascend to honor the innocent lives stolen away on a fun night out after a long week at work, I took some solace in the knowledge that LGBT+ human beings have punctuated our global history for as long as we can remember. I took solace in the knowledge that an industrial scale attempt to send us all to gas chambers resolutely failed.
Yes we can be damaged and yes we can be killed, but for as long as this beautiful planet keeps on turning we will be here, living our lives and loving who we love. Love wins because Mother Earth will keep giving rise to our rainbow of diversity.
Stay proud, stay strong, stay vigilant.
(Rest in Peace Pulse 49)