By now we all know the story.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida – killing 49 people and leaving an additional 58 wounded.
It’s been called a hate crime, an act of terror, and the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, but one thing remains clear: the Pulse shooting was a senseless and brutal act of violence.
And as all acts of violence do, it has left a legacy, though perhaps not the one you’d expect.
When I woke up on the morning of June 12th, I was shaken.
Orlando, a beautiful city, home to some of my closest friends, my family, had been terrorized overnight by a gunman filled with hate.
I watched all morning as friends “checked in” on social media, letting everyone know they were safe.
I watched, and my heart broke for the ones who weren’t, whose families would suffer irreparable harm as the result of this violence.
My heart still breaks to think of how a simple night out could go so horribly wrong, and all because of one man’s hateful ideology.
In the immediate aftermath of the Pulse shooting though, the Orlando community saw an influx of donations and support. Blood drives were held around the state of Florida to help those who had been wounded. People showed up to help.
Russ Kasim is a board member of the Orlando Youth Alliance, an organization that seeks to provide a safe space for queer youth in the region. He sees what one might describe as a silver lining within the tragedy.
“The city itself has just gotten so supportive overall,” Kasim said.
“I think people may not have been quite so vocal about their support of the LGBT community, but now they are. You saw a lot of stickers and t-shirts and stuff, cars covered in that, people wearing the ‘Orlando Strong’ t-shirts, and it was not just the gay community, it was the community at large. The support became more visible.”
It seems this is how progress occurs.
We stay in our own small bubbles of experience, more than willing to relegate to the “other” anything we do not understand, until we receive a shock to our cultural consciousness – an event so horrific that we cannot ignore it. And it demands the compassion that should have been there all along.
“We just have to be open and listen and just understand that not everybody’s the same and that’s okay,” Kasim said.
“You might identify as straight, but just because someone’s gay or trans, doesn’t mean their life is not as valid as yours because you’re heterosexual and they’re not.”
It remains difficult if not impossible to make sense of acts of horrific violence like the Pulse shooting. There is no reason this should have happened, but it is heartening to see people coming together to help in the aftermath. It means we are not beyond hope, and not beyond change.
The legacy of this terrible crime will always be entrenched in the 49 people who lost their lives at the hand of this hateful gunman, but there’s positivity to be found.
Orlando’s LGBT Latinx community, disproportionately affected due to the shooting taking place on ‘Latin Night’ is finally getting necessary resources.
“Since Pulse happened there’s been a lot of attention moved and put on the LGBT Latin community specifically. We’ve seen where the hardships are for them,” Kasim said.
“There were some nonprofits started aimed at helping to build the Latin community and to help to get resources to the LGBT Latin community, that weren’t there before.”
Rising up to meet the needs of an underserved population is one wayss this tragedy can bring light into the future.
It would be easy to be discouraged in the face of such hate.
It would be easy to grow cold and begin to see that hate all around, particularly in the current political climate.
But what Pulse seems to have shown us more than anything is that in times of tragedy, people step up.
The human spirit is unbreakable, and we are powerful when we stick together.
As we remember the victims of the Pulse shooting this year, it is imperative that we recognize the chance to move forward.
To be better.
“I feel like people are coming around. I feel like nationally, the Pulse incident has shone a light on the LGBT community and made it more of a discussion — where maybe it would not have been. So I think it’s opening people’s eyes,” Kasim said.
We are having discussions now that we shied away from before.
We know now how important it is to talk about discrimination – yes, even and probably especially in 2017.
We know we need to talk about gun control and acts of violence. We know we need to be allies.
This is not the first tragedy many of us have witnessed.
It is not the first horrendous act of violence we’ve tried desperately to make sense of, only to come up short.
But the Pulse incident has presented us with a challenge.
It’s cursed us with the knowledge of what hate can do.
And the question remains: what we will do now that we have it?
Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.