I lived in Orlando from 1995-1996 and again from 2000-2003. I still have many friends there, all of whom were, fortunately, not at Pulse last night. I have been to two other gay clubs in Orlando, Parliament House and Southern Nights. Clubs in general aren’t really my thing, but I’m not generally one to decline invitations, even if, sometimes, I felt like the only straight person in the room. I am uncomfortable in pretty much any crowded place, so I wasn’t more uncomfortable there than in any other club. The bottom line is that I have LGBT friends, so I get invited to LGBT places.
What happened last night is horrible. Early on in the news reporting, some news outlets were hesitant to call it terrorism. By my definition, someone killing unarmed civilians is terrorism. We may not know what flavor of terrorism it is, but it is terrorism.
Now we have progressed to the “We have to do something now!” stage. People are pretty much divided into two camps:
- Gun control
- Muslim control
- (There’s a disgusting third group who believes gays brought this upon themselves. I’m not sure we can do anything about them, so to avoid infuriating myself, I will ignore them.)
Typically it’s the Democrats/liberals pushing gun control and the Republicans/conservatives wanting to do something about Muslims. Frankly, I think they are both right…and wrong. The big picture is that neither of these addresses the root cause of tragic events like this.
Yes, with more restrictions on guns we can possibly reduce the magnitude of tragedies. We can force killers to reload more often. We can make it more difficult to get guns in general. In this case, as far as I can tell, the killer was a security guard with a concealed carry permit, meaning that, at the minimum, he passed two background checks. There are conflicting reports of whether he was on a watch list, but federal legislation to keep guns from people on the watch list was defeated (correctly, in my opinion, because we shouldn’t take away rights without due process, and there’s no due process for the watch list). If we ban guns, then terrorists will resort to suicide bombings like in much of the rest of the world. I’m not sure how that would have affected the body count in Orlando. I personally do not own a gun because I don’t think it makes me safer. If other people want them, I am fine with that, provided they know how to operate them safely and can store them securely.
Trump famously wants to keep Muslims from entering the country. In December he even suggested–then retracted–the idea of internment camps for Muslims. We already have the USA PATRIOT Act giving the government the ability to monitor communications with people outside the US. Amendment I keeps the government from favoring one religion over another, so instead, legislators are targeting countries. I try to stick to a bottom line: If someone asks me for help and I am capable of helping, I help. Yes, some of the time the person really doesn’t need the help and is taking advantage of my generosity, but I’m not willing to forsake those who really need it. Syrian and Afghan refugees need help. We are capable of giving it, so we should.
Neither of these really addresses the root causes. People are afraid. People feel abandoned. People are mistreated. Even worse, people are ignored. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to live in a community where they feel like a valued member. They don’t want to be shunned because they are the nerd in a room full of jocks. If you’re a nerd, you’re going to gravitate toward other nerds, because they, theoretically, understand you better.
Except that they don’t.
We all live in this world. We all feel loneliness. We all crave acceptance by someone. We all want to feel wanted and needed. We want to be important to someone.
Too often, we’re rejected. We decide that we can’t befriend someone because they are too unlike ourselves. So we look elsewhere. Sometimes we find acceptance in books that relate to our experiences. Sometimes we connect with people online. Sometimes we don’t connect at all.
Between second and third grade, my family moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin. I entered a class of kids who had all been together since kindergarten. Worse, I had the horrible combination of a Southern accent and a speech impediment. The perfunctory entrance screening I was given mistakenly placed me at the bottom of my class.
I was pissed.
I was also relentless and focused. I worked as fast as the teacher would allow, and sometimes faster than she would allow. I taught myself to read and write upside-down so I could do both halves of the workbook simultaneously. But I also got into fights–usually on the losing end. Slowly, I made friends, or at least frenemies, as I would play baseball and get hit by pitches more often than anyone else or get stepped on or kicked when I fell during a game. I made friends, but even years later I felt isolated. I was popular enough, or, at least, got good enough grades, to get voted Most Likely To Succeed, but that didn’t make me want to stay. I resented the people in my town, and I wanted nothing more than to get away. So I did.
It took me a long time to understand what really happened, and that most people were good, even if we couldn’t relate to each other. I know now that my rejection was nothing compared to what many others have experienced. I wasn’t particularly adaptive, and they weren’t terribly inclusive. And therein lies the problem.
It’s always been the problem with immigrants. People who are already here want newcomers to abandon their old ways and embrace their new community. Very often, the immigrants moved because they had to move, not because they wanted to move, so they had no interest in adapting any more than necessary. So the immigrants keep to themselves and make no effort to integrate themselves, and the long-time residents shun them and feel taken advantage of when the immigrants use government services. Both sides could help each other, but neither does, and resentment grows. Both sides feel that they are treated unfairly, and they are both right.
We are all human beings. We should be treated with respect. We should help each other. We should teach each other and learn from each other. We should try to understand each other, even though that understanding will never be perfect.
Guns aren’t the whole problem.
Muslims aren’t the whole problem.
We are the problem.
Be kind. Make a new friend. Help a stranger. Smile, even when it hurts. We are all in this together. Act like it.