Equality Florida Intern Reflects On 'Orlando Love' Event & #HonorThemWithAction
Written By: Kenzie Helmick, Orlando-Based Intern
The City of Orlando and Orange County Government designated June 12, 2017 as Orlando United Day in remembrance of the 49 lives taken and in recognition of the massive community support responding to the tragedy. In the days that followed the Pulse massacre, the city of Orlando, along with the rest of the world, united in a historic movement, donating their supplies, money, time, or blood to help however they could.
Representing Equality Florida, I had the privilege of attending and tabling at this year’s Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels event, one of the many opportunities for reflection and community support organized on this special day. It’s hard to put in to words the awe-inspiring gravity of a scene in which an estimated 10,000 people gathered simply to be together and reflect, showing compassion to those around them. Nor is it easy for me to describe the feelings induced by listening to performances by talented locals such as Sisaundra Lewis or the Orlando Gay Chorus, which encompassed the fear, hope and joy felt by us all in the past year. Yet what I found most touching that night was the interactions with the people attending and the opportunity to hear their personal stories.
While I was tabling, people would approach Equality Florida’s booth simply to offer their stories, reactions and emotions concerning the aftermath of Pulse, giving me an insight into some of their unique experiences, such as the veteran who had waited nearly 60 years for Kissimmee’s first Pridefest and was moved to tears when talking about the impact community figures like Commissioner Patty Sheehan had following Pulse, or the young girl who, after Pulse, began handing out handcrafted rainbow hearts to everyone she met. It is always a remarkable gift when someone, especially a stranger, is willing to share their story with you, as they are sharing an intimate part of themselves, yet this personal act felt completely natural in the community setting of Orlando Love.
I am not a very emotional person, making it especially difficult for me to process enormous tragedies like the Pulse massacre. Instead, I have always found it easier to channel my feelings into tangible, concrete action, which is why Equality Florida’s new campaign, #HonorThemWithAction resonates so deeply with me. Hearing these individuals’ beautiful stories and positivity, while watching other equally as passionate booths each do their part to make the world a slightly better place, was reinvigorating. I found myself extremely hopeful of the future of our city and society as a whole, all while being given a newfound motivation to take serious action towards changing our community now.
Of course, reflection, remembrance and the expression of grief will always be extremely important and necessary facets of coping and dealing with this tragedy. But as we’ve reached the one year mark of Pulse, we must now continue to channel our pain, anger, and sadness into action, because there is still so much more we need to do. In the wake of the mass shooting during the club’s Latin night, where clubgoers were mainly minorities, we must address the often-hidden, intersectional issues faced by LGBTQ+ people of color. It’s also time for us to disarm hate by enacting policies that will prevent gun violence, requiring universal background checks (even in private purchases of firearms) and limiting access to assault weapons. Finally, Florida’s political sphere must make clear to the rest of society that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression is unacceptable by passing statewide protections. These critical milestones can only be achieved through active effort and community outreach, pressuring our political leaders and policymakers to pass the legislation necessary to protect generations to come. Orlando Love, as an opportunity to unify and find ways people can help, served as a first step in the very long fight in front of us. Now, we must hold onto this sense of community, and #HonorThemWithAction.