DignityUSA Executive Director Speaks at Rome Vigil to Remember Pulse Victims
Thank you for having me here. It is an honor to be with you to remember victims of anti-LGBT violence. Though we are from different countries, this is a reality that binds us all, and it is good and right to stand together in witness and remembrance.
Saturday, June 11, 2016 was an absolutely perfect day for the celebration of LGBT Pride in Boston. The energy was powerful. It was our city’s first Pride since marriage equality became the law of the land in the United States. A hard-won Transgender Equality law was about to be signed by our Governor. My wife, our two daughters, aged 14 and 12, and I marched as part of the Dignity/Boston contingent. Our older daughter’s best friend, who is bisexual, joined us for her first ever Pride celebration, and was just thrilled to be there, and to hear all the cheers and applause as we walked. We chatted with our Representative to Congress, and were joined on the march you our state’s Attorney General, our Mayor, and many other political, business, and religious leaders. We were among 100,000 people who marched and cheered along the 3-mile route, and who enjoyed a festival of music, speeches, booths, and greeting friends on City Hall plaza. It was a joyous, full day. We felt victorious, even invincible.
When I turned on the news the next morning, all that joy shattered instantly. The reports and images were beyond horrific. In the still-dark Florida morning, police cars and ambulances ringed a nightclub in Orlando that served the LGBT community. Dozens were dead, many more injured, and it was said that cars in the parking lot had been rigged with bombs. As the day wore on, the numbers of wounded and dead climbed. By mid-afternoon, we knew that 49 patrons and the perpetrator had been killed, and 53 people were being treated in area hospitals. Most were young, Latin@ LGBT people.
That night, our community celebrated its annual Pride liturgy. What is usually a glorious, even raucus highlight of our liturgical year was markedly somber. The music was changed to reflect sober determination. A ring of candles circled our rainbow, transgender, and bisexual flags. Many sobbed openly. It was just the first of numerous memorials held in the days and weeks following the massacre.
In the hours and days following this unspeakable violence, many Catholic bishops and our national bishops conference issued statements about the shooting. All condemned the violence and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. However, only 6 out of nearly 300 bishops acknowledged that this horrific event targeted people who were LGBT. 6. The others hid behind words like “innocent victims,” and “tragic loss of life” – true words, but sinfully incomplete. One bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, dared to explicitly link the shooting to teachings and statements by Catholic leaders. He said, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.” He was soundly chastised by Bishop Wenski of Miami, his Metropolitan, for his comments.
Sadly, it is not only the Pulse shooting, but nearly all anti-LGBT violence, which is ignored by the leaders of our Church. Thus far in 2016, 23 transgender people, almost all trans people of color, have been murdered in the US, a record number of deaths. The Transgender Murder Monitoring project documents 166 murders of transgender people globally in the first 10 months of 2016. Unfortunately, that number is certain to rise. How many bishops have publicly addressed this tragic loss of life, or the other degradations transgender people face on a daily basis? I don’t know of any. Instead, we hear from Pope Francis that “gender ideology” represents “ideological colonization,” is “demonic”, and even is a threat to marriage. Does he realize he is fueling discrimination and hatred?
Murder and physical violence are the extreme, but each of us and LGBT people all around the globe have encountered violence many times. We experience cruel taunts, exclusion, threats, loss of employment or housing, rejection, frequent insults from some religious leaders, malicious lies about us that go unchallenged, and much more. Each of these encounters leaves a wound, a trauma.
We are here to remember and honor the lives of all of those lost to anti-LGBT violence. These are beloved children of God. They are daughters and sons of loving parents, siblings, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors to us all. They were Army veterans, students of literature, finance, health care, package delivery workers, artists, store managers, and bouncers. They had survived cancer, car accidents, addictions, and traumatic childhoods. One young woman was in Orlando to celebrate graduating third in her Philadelphia Catholic high school class, and being awarded a basketball scholarship that would have enabled her to attend a Catholic college. They are remembered as outgoing, energetic, passionate, loyal ,and full of life. They had amazing gifts and talents of which the world is now deprived.
We honor them, not only is ensuring their names and their lives are not forgotten, but in recommitting ourselves, as people of deep and enduring faith, to ending all hatred and violence rooted in misunderstanding, ignorance, and inflammatory religious rhetoric. We will continue to remind the leaders of our Church that their hands are stained with the blood of the innocent, of LGBT people whose lives are lost to violence or suicide. In the memory of those killed at Pulse, and all or the LGBT souls gone too soon from this earth, we work for justice, for affirmation, for love.