15 June, 2016 WHY DO GAY PEOPLE TAKE THEIR LIVES (AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS)?
To say that I have been a wreck since Sunday would be an understatement. Trying to go on with routine and everyday life after Sunday’s attack in Orlando is a challenge. Some of you might not fully be able to grasp that and that’s ok. These words are for you. What happened in Orlando hit me hard. Just when I thought I had processed, I was wrong. This has affected me at my core. I feel loss…grief, sadness and anger. Many of you know me as a very positive individual. Maybe to the point of being annoying.
I am back in the studio today and right there in the mix with the other photographers. They were rushing around working on projects, studio lights flashing, music blaring and I couldn’t even bring myself to smile. I came in today with no makeup on, baggy clothes and had just spent the morning in tears. I shut the door to my office quickly and tried to get to work. I overheard my straight buddies talking about the massacre. “Why is the media making this an LGBT thing? I read that the murderer was gay…so they were killing their own.” They weren’t being mean or ugly they just didn’t understand. I am not a big crier but my heart pounded as I quietly started sobbing at my desk. I needed to go out there and say something but I couldn’t find the words. These are my new friends/coworkers. They don’t know my story. They have no clue that I was raised being told I was going to burn in hell because of how I was wired to love. They didn’t know I was a praise and worship leader and actively involved in every area of my church until I was well into my 20s. They didn’t know I started 2 businesses to help spread love and inclusion in the LGBT community. How was I going to find the words (when I was so upset) to chime in and approach them with love and sincerity? I walked out and started talking from my heart…choking back tears. They have never seen me without a smile on my face and not many have seen me with tears falling down my face. Today was one of the most raw moments I have had in my entire 33 years and I experienced it practically amongst strangers. That needed to happen. I was broken and exposed.
With a lump in my throat, I began to tell them that unless you’re gay it’s very difficult to fully grasp what it’s like to lose 50 complete strangers. Strangers that are your family. This is VERY MUCH an LGBT issue. I’d hate for someone to not be affected by it until I am the one who is targeted by a hate crime. My community was targeted. Yes, by someone who was in fact gay and struggling like many of us have in the past. Obviously, I am furious at this man. I don’t know his life, his story, but I would like for you to be sensitive to what I am about to write. Hopefully my words will help you relate to this horrible tragedy. Maybe my perspective can encourage compassion and inspire a change in the way we think about and treat one another.
When you are raised extremely religious and you are gay… a majority of the time you are made to believe that you are innately flawed. Here are the things you know: You are an outcast. You cannot talk with anyone about it. You are going to hell. You are a disappointment. You are judged. You are treated differently. You are looked down upon and pitied. You might appear “the perfect kid” but there is always that one thing that hangs over your head. You’re reminded often that you need fixing or maybe you haven’t been praying hard enough. Maybe you just haven’t found the right man and maybe this is just a phase. You are ALONE in this. You take this to bed with you every single night. You dream about it when you finally do fall asleep. You pick it right back up and take it around with you when you get out of bed. You are extremely hard on yourself. You try to be perfect in every area of your life. You begin to feel worthless. Hopeless. At some point, if you’re strong enough to get away from all of the negativity and remove yourself from it, you can (with help) slowly start to reprogram your thinking and repair yourself when acceptance and self love are not your friends. You constantly question “WHAT AM I EVEN HERE FOR?” For years you fill up leather journals with words and tears. You go through times of wondering if anyone would miss you if you were gone. You hit rock bottom and sometimes you hit it alone. You feel sorry for yourself then you give yourself pep talks and say “you only have ONE LIFE…be you. Live it. Love it. Be happy with who you are.” I will tell you first hand….IT IS HARD. Now I will say I have never gotten to the point where I would take my own life but sadly I have many friends who have. I do not know what it feels like to be physically beaten for being gay but some of my friends do know. I will never know what it feels like to be so filled with self-loathing, shame, and hatred that I would resort to violence against innocent people — people that I am assuming this man was so full of jealousy towards as a closeted gay person — happy and out gay people dancing, smiling and enjoying their lives in a dance club. THIS WAS AN ATTACK ON THE LGBT COMMUNITY by someone who resorted to violence because of his own issues and more than likely because he absolutely despised himself. My heart aches. I am so angry at this person. I am also filled with compassion for others in my community that might be feeling this hatred. Hatred for themselves, hatred from preachers from the pulpit, negativity from society and silence from people in the church during this terrible tragedy.
This is me. STEPH. After crying and getting a hug from my coworker he told me, “Write on this chalkboard. Don’t think. Just write.”
Then he took these portraits.
I am here to tell you that I have found my voice. I will speak…I will SHOUT the truth for the kids who can’t. I will be the one to talk with people who don’t quite understand their part in all of this. I will be there for my brothers and sisters but I need that in return as well. WE CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. We need you. We need our allies. We need to embrace each other as human beings and choose LOVE every single day. Where there is love there is hope. Where there is hope there is another kid who will feel comfortable loving and accepting themselves. YOU ARE LOVED. #PromoteLove