As an organization, as a network, and above all as a community, Funders for LGBTQ Issues is in mourning, in sympathy, and in solidarity with and for all those affected by this weekend’s tragic act of violence against the LGBTQ community. This past Saturday night, a man attacked Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. It was Latin night, during Pride Month, a time when the LGBTQ community celebrates our heritage and history of activism. More than 100 people were hurt in the shooting, including 49 people who lost their lives, nearly all of them LGBTQ and Latino/a/x. The oldest of the victims was 50 years old, and the youngest was 18.
The tragedy is devastating, not only because of the horrible loss of life, but also because this was an act of hate directed at LGBTQ people and Latinos. It is especially heartbreaking that the attack was made on an LGBTQ club – a place that has served as a safe haven for our community in a world that does not always welcome us.
I was 18 the first time that I went to a gay club. A group of us at Swarthmore College rented a van to drive to Woody’s in Philadelphia for their alcohol-free youth night. I felt terrified walking in, taking one more step toward acknowledging the reality that I was, in fact, gay, after having learned all my life that being gay was a bad thing. My fear was soon replaced by joy and love, dancing with friends and strangers, another step toward realizing that I was not alone.
Every time I look at the list of 49 people killed in Orlando, I think about how each one of them had a journey that led them to Pulse on Saturday night. Each one of them found the courage to be themselves in spite of all the homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in the world; each one of them made their way to Pulse to celebrate, to share their joy and friendship, to be in community with each other. This act of hate and violence sought to take all of that away from them, and from all of us.
Despite recent victories and momentum for LGBTQ rights, this attack is a tragic reminder that hatred is still powerful and alive. From the burning of the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 to the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie in 1998, from the attacks at Jerusalem Pride last year to Orlando this weekend, anti-LGBTQ attacks have a long history and occur with alarming regularity. Moreover, the everyday violence perpetrated against our communities rarely makes the headlines. In 2016, it is far too common for trans people to be murdered or for a same-sex couple to be brutally assaulted.
As LGBTQ people, living with this threat of violence teaches us to be afraid to express our love and ourselves. Though violence teaches us that we should be afraid, LGBTQ people have instead learned to be brave. Though hatred can all too easily beget hatred, it is heartening to see the LGBTQ community and our allies responding with love. At Funders for LGBTQ Issues, we have received a stream of messages of support from members, from funders, from allies, from partner philanthropic networks – all of them offering their love and prayers and asking what they could do to help.
Over the coming weeks, Funders for LGBTQ Issues will work with partner networks to develop programming for funders to discuss the longer-term implications of this horrible attack, including how we can address homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in our culture. We will also create forums to talk about how to support LGBTQ communities of color, address Islamaphobia, and advance common-sense gun safety measures. Most importantly, how can the philanthropic community work together to build a world that is free of hatred and violence? How can funders, whatever their philanthropic priorities, come together to build a world that is based in courage, solidarity, and love?
For today, we focus on mourning the ones we have lost, healing the ones who are hurt, and embracing the ones we love.
Ben Francisco Maulbeck
President, Funders for LGBTQ Issues