Courage is a Practice: 3 Years After Pulse

This was written a year after the Pulse massacre. I share it today at the three year anniversary.

One year ago today I actually listened to news before church. I usually don't but this day I did. I was horrified at what I was learning. I wish I could say I have become jaded at the frequent mass shootings in our nation but I have not. 27 confirmed dead. I ended up going back to church at 5:00 needing to make sense of the senselessness.

As the day rolled on, the number of dead continued to rise. At one point they said 50 dead. We later learned 49 died. A shooter went into a gay nightclub on Latin night and killed people. The murderer chose a safe place - a place where gay people find safety in being with each other in a world that often heaps contempt and sometimes violence on them. I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of the parents who were calling cell phones trying to determine if their child was alive.

I sat down later that night and began to write - free fall as I am doing tonight, no saving, no editing. And I lost everything I wrote. My frustration compounded for I was seeking to form some modicum of meaning through words. I went to bed with a clear answer - tomorrow I will write a letter to my entire law firm about grief, community, and standing up against hatred.

The next morning I got to work and began dealing with a different fire. By the time I was done with it all it was Tuesday afternoon. I never wrote that letter. I did send a short note to our LGBT attorneys and out staff that I knew of. Earlier that Tuesday morning during the meeting of senior administrative management I gave an unplanned speech about acknowledging what had happened over the weekend, and making it clear that our office was a safe space to discuss what happened. I implored our leaders to not be silent, to check on their teams, and to not pretend nothing happened. Several other things happened during the week that my team lead out on as we responded to the tragedy and act of hatred. And I am proud of how the people at my firm responded. With short notice people came together. They blow me away time after time with how they respond with open hands.

Here is what I have learned in my short lifetime. We are in this together. I knew this when I was a child afraid of Maitesine, when I have been an adult in my partner office crying because boko haram was killing people and I couldn't reach my family, or when I saw my family members grieve loved ones lost in the so-called civil war in Sierra Leone.

I also learned that we must speak for each other. I am not gay or transgender. But I will speak for our brethren who are LGBT. Because they are as deserving of dignity, love and respect as every other human being made in the image of God. I will speak for my Muslim neighbors because in my heart dance memories of the people who have loved me the most who are Muslim, and because they are covered by grace as am I. I will speak because the darkness cannot survive the light. I will speak because courage is a practice. And in a political environment where people draw artificial barriers between work and life, where we don't discuss social justice issues, I know that my failure to speak will inevitably lead to me being silent when I should not.

And so last year at this time I was going to bed thinking about going to work and saying something about 49 gay people being killed just because they are gay because I am a Christian, because I believe in inclusion, because hate must be chased away, because I need you to speak for me when it is me targeted.

In the past year I have remembered the girl who spoke up to her sister's bullying primary 1 teacher when she was no more than 9 years old. And the girl who spoke up to the (military) governor's wife in front of a crowd in a culture where children are to be seen but not speak and certainly not speak up to people in authority. And the girl who called BS on college administrators and led protests. I need to be her again. Courage is a practice. Speak when it matters. It often matters. Someday you will need someone to speak up for you.