In the wake of this morning’s shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act. –H.” She then repeated the message in Spanish. Donald Trump used the platform to share his initial recap of the events: “Really bad shooting in Orlando. Police investigating possible terrorism. Many people dead and wounded.” He later added that he was praying for the victims, but only after squeezing in a quick dig at Clinton in response to an unrelated attack ad.
Neither one of our potential future presidents, both quick to rattle off notes to let us know they knew what had happened, initially acknowledged that it was an attack on a gay club—neither devoted even four of their 140 characters to include the term “LGBT.” In a time of optics and messaging, when priority is so clearly placed on releasing a statement quickly that is politically failsafe, it’s discouraging to think that calling this massacre what it really was—a targeted attack on the LGBT community—was deemed either a risky sentiment to articulate from the offset, or, worse, not important enough to mention. Sadly, though, that isn’t the point.
You cannot deny that this mass shooting, like the staggeringly long list of mass shootings before it, should be an opportunity to push for stricter gun control policy, even if cynicism and past experience dictate that it will be unlikely to bring about any real change. It should be an opportunity to discuss the troubling and disgraceful culture of homophobia that runs rampant across our country. And it should be a time to challenge the hypocrisy of politicians who offer their “prayers and thoughts” while neglecting to act on meaningful legislation to effect change for either cause. But none of these calls for action should be so loud as to drown out what was lost today that cannot be amended: 50 human lives gone forever in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
That’s 50 families now missing a member. Fifty groups of friends mourning one of their own. Fifty sets of coworkers who’ve lost a colleague. Fifty homes that will remain empty after last night.
The 50 people who were brutally murdered are not more or less significant because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. Their deaths were not more or less outrageous because the guns used by Omar Mateen were obtained legally, or that he reportedly pledged his allegiance to ISIS before embarking on the massacre. The political reaction cannot reduce this morning's events to accusations of failed policy. We cannot remove the human terms. These people aren’t symbols of a failed political system. They are people.
The LGBT community will bounce back; we always bounce back. That this morning’s events happened during pride month, when local LGBT communities come together to celebrate how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go, can be a powerful opportunity to invite everyone to celebrate with us. You should attend pride events in your town. But do not attend as a political act; attend as a human act. Politics will always fail us—not just the LGBT community, but every community, eventually—and we cannot be so jaded to believe that our shared humanity won’t ultimately win out above all.
“This could have been any one of our communities,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his address this afternoon, before describing Pulse as a home for LGBT Americans, “a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” That the President didn’t gloss over the specifics and context of the shooting is important; words are powerful. But words are not more powerful than the human beings whose lives were taken, and the human beings who remain.