June was LGBT Pride month, a time when we celebrate values like equality, diversity, inclusion and dignity. As a civil rights attorney, I’ve had the good fortune to spend the majority of my career working on these noble values and against discrimination rooted in ignorance, stereotypes, assumptions, bigotry, fear—and yes, sometimes anger and hate. The horrific tragedy in Orlando rocked my world on many levels, particularly because it threatened these values that I hold so dearly.
I attended several of the vigils held in Dupont Circle for the Orlando victims. At each one, I was struck by the intersectionality of so many different groups coming together—LGBT community members and allies, people from varying racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and people of all different faiths as well as some who do not subscribe to any particular set of religious beliefs or simply may be questioning a greater power. It was truly inspiring. I am the youngest, openly gay son in a big, Mexican-American, Catholic, middle-class family of nine children who grew up in Kansas. I realize there is a lot packed into what I just said but viewed another way, it all perfectly describes who I am. And just like me, each victim in Orlando has their own complex, yet inter-connected and perfect story too.
Earlier in my life, I struggled with trying to reconcile parts of who I am, such as my faith and my sexual orientation and, to some extent, being Latino. Many people in the LGBT community have had similar struggles. Society often makes many of us feel that we have to choose which parts we can be, and to whom and when we can share those parts. Even worse, society makes many of us feel that we have to actually reject some of who we are, particularly when we get messages suggesting that being gay is not normal or it makes us bad people. But members of our community are gay and people of color. We are gay and people of faith. And this is not just the reality, it also is normal — and it is good. We have worked so hard to ensure that differences among us are not used as reasons to discriminate. That stereotypes and assumptions are not used to justify bigotry and hate. We cannot let fear and ignorance cripple these efforts now.
I am passionate about these issues. I am so lucky to have found a place to work that not only makes me happy and proud every day, but also allows me to be my full authentic self. I say this because for many in the LGBT community, gay bars and clubs historically have provided the safe space where people could bring their full authentic selves, often for the first time, without fear of judgment, ostracism, or even injury by family members at home, strangers on the street, or law enforcement in their communities.
I remember my first time at a gay nightclub, seeing two men holding hands and later dancing together. It was beautiful and it made me feel welcome, proud and happy. In one article I read, an Orlando resident who frequented the Pulse nightclub stated that the club was where he learned to love himself as a gay man. The recent tragedy threatened this space that had long been viewed as safe and happy, not just in Orlando, but all around the world because it could have happened anywhere.
Here in Washington, D.C., we are fortunate to have many places that are providing help to the LGBT community in the wake of the Orlando shooting massacre. The DC Center for the LGBT Community is providing much of the needed assistance, from hosting a forum attended by hundreds to mourn and discuss the impact of the attack to offering individual and group mental health counseling for people grieving or suffering from prejudice and violence.
Along with countless others, I will continue to work tirelessly to be one of those who not only supports our community during this time of healing, but also advocates for action both to ensure the LGBT community has safe spaces as well as to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future. While we have accomplished much, we still have a long way to go. Let us all remain hopeful that in the end, kindness, respect, justice—and yes, I daresay even love will prevail.
Louis Lopez is a board member of the DC Center for the LGBT Community.