I remember picking out my outfit as I prepared to go out for a night of dancing with friends at The Pulse. I knew I could tease the outer boundaries of whatever fashion forward, thrift store finds I felt inspired to put together, because I knew I was going somewhere where acceptance and freedom of expression were celebrated. I knew that no matter how avant garde or “costume-y” I might have appeared for Central Florida, there would be someone there who would “looooooove my look”. I knew I would be joined on the dance floor by other people who would be right in step with my emotive interpretive dancing. Being different was cool. Owning it was even cooler. This was a safe place.

That evening ended with early morning greasy food and two ibuprofen. Now, years later, I wake up in Philadelphia and shudder at the realization that for so many people, their night, which had begun in such a similar way, ended in horrifying contrast. The refuge had been shattered, along with the lives of innumerable lovers, friends, family, and a community as a whole

We learned of the attack from Ryan’s sister, Rachael, who still lives Orlando with her partner, Amy. Rachael works in the surgical unit at Orlando Health Hospital which treated the majority of the patients that morning and in the days to follow. I stared into the eyes of the victims as they glided through my Facebook news feed, comforted only by a flood of messages saying, “So and So was marked Safe in Orlando.” I don’t express my gratitude for social media very often. This would be a profound exception.

Waves of tears would hit. Crashing upon me unexpectedly, as if I had turned my back on the sea; having become distracted by something glimmering in the dunes.

Safety has always been a highly sought after and elusive luxury for the LGBTQ community. I can related to this on certain levels as a straight woman. The freedom that comes with not fearing that someone may want to harm you, or take something from you, simply because of how you were born. And the rooted feeling that comes from knowing that you are valued, not as an object, but as a human being endowed with worth, grace, and wisdom. You are not an object that must withstand the projections of someone else’s frustrations with the world.

And the more I meditate on this, the more it’s revealed to me that we all, every gender, race religion, orientation, and ideology are suffering from this systemic virus of de-humanization. Some groups inarguably sufferer exponentially more that others. The LGBTQ community, in it’s all encompassing diversity, receives a good portion of the weight of this burden. Why?

What are they asking for that seems so impossible to respect?
The freedom to be themselves.
The ability to live full and open lives with the people they love.
In other words: basic human rights.

My goal as a storyteller, and BeeNest Films’ goal as an agent of opening hearts and minds, has been attempting to do what we can to help further the progress and affirmation of the LGBTQ community. In particular, imploring faith communities to recognize how some of its rhetoric has planted seeds in society that lead to the horrific violent fruits of dehumanization we witnessed in Orlando on the morning of June 12, 2016.

As the aftershocks ripple outward, and blame casts it shadow within the hearts of so many, I feel more and more convinced that there is no “one” group to blame. As I begin to trace the connections between so many targeted and oppressed groups, and the motivations that lead to the overwhelming expressions of violence and discord in our world, it seems more and more apparent that the only singular guilty party, is the anger, hatred, and disgust that manifests itself, via many deceptive forms, in all of our hearts. It is the enemy.

There is no person, party, race or religion that is the source of the problem. There is just the same shape-shifting, insidious hatred that infiltrates all parties involved.

Imagine if a group of communities became infected with a parasitic virus: As victims become more ill and succumbed to the sickness, we don’t blame them or their families for getting sick. But their is a respect for the health of the community that is expected from those who are ill. We hold ourselves to a standard: that you remain vigilant and that you won’t knowingly go around putting other people in danger.

Now replace this virus with hatred and thoughts of superiority. When we become aware that we’ve become “infected”, our first priority should be to heal ourselves.We’ll each need to do the hard work needed to diagnose and treat these thoughts and impulses. Why? To save the community? Sure. But first things first, YOU have to get well. Otherwise, it is you who is going to be lost, and next thing you know you could be the one out there infecting your loved ones and the community with the “Superiority virus” or the ”Hatred Virus”.

And like with any sickness, it tends to start with small almost imperceptible symptoms: laughing at someone else’s expense ( hi! Guilty here!), being indifferent to someone else’s pain, criticizing someone’s differences, etc.

But watch out! Once we find ourselves in a full blown outbreak, as it would appear we are in right now, it can be really hard to stay vigilant and not allow our own hearts to become infected.

Here’s the thing, if someone caught in your face, or spat in your eye, you are most likely going to have to battle and infection. Don’t be upset with yourself. Someone spat in you eye! Feeling of anger will be natural But if you catch it early and really take care of yourself, you can fight it off! And guess what!? You’ll have some pretty effective antibodies developed to help you stay immune to the next viral attack. A virus that cannot find new hosts, eventually go dormant. THIS is the power of love Audra Day speaks of before performing her moving song RISE UP.

It is the immune system for our souls, hard at work, healing and protecting us. As we heal and protect ourselves with love, we further the healing and protection of our entire society.
Every. Little. Bit. Counts.