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    Celebrating Pride as We Remember Orlando

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis

    As we mark the first anniversary of the Orlando massacre in which 49, mostly Latinx, members of the LGBTQ community were murdered and 53 others were wounded at the Pulse Nightclub, we find ourselves reflecting on how sobering the events in the early hours of June 12, 2016, were.

    Stuart had gotten up earlier than John had that Sunday morning, and as soon as he heard John rustling awake, he rushed to him to tell him that something horrific had happened the night before. We watched Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen who together with his partner Juan Ramon Guerrero were killed that night, desperately seek news of her son’s fate on live television and plea for an end to “the hatred and the violence” and to “do something with the assault weapons.”

    A year ago, Janiel Gonzalez described what had happened inside the bar to the Palm Beach Post: “I was ordering a Red Bull at the bar … . As I was signing my tab, out of nowhere … [I heard rapid gunfire] … . [I]t got louder and louder … . He kept on shooting and shooting and shooting … . I could smell the ammo in the air.” And “[w]hen I dropped to the floor … [I] saw people crying and covered in blood.”

    Shawn Roysten, who also survived the massacre, explained in the Los Angeles Times: “There were so many bodies, so much blood.”  Eddie Justice lost his life that night when the gunman found him hiding in the bathroom. Shortly before he died he texted his mother: “Mommy I love you … . In club they’re shooting … . He’s coming. I’m gonna die.”

    We have been fortunate not to have suffered such brutal and sudden loss in our lives. However, our recent experiences losing close loved ones and consoling others who have lost life partners and dear friends heighten our sense of connection and empathy with all of those who lost loved ones in Orlando. Our hearts are with Orlando and all other victims of gun violence. We hold each other and those we love more tightly.

    A year ago, we wrote in this column: “We cannot fully honor the lives of those lost in Orlando on June 12 unless we do everything in our power not just to reduce hatred, but to eliminate access to the firearms that provide the means by which people carry out these types of massacres and other gun violence.”

    Today, we ask ourselves: are we doing everything we can? Shortly after the shooting, Lambda Legal’s Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg wrote that “we must step up and fight to end gun violence.” And we need to do it “now.” And the Human Rights Campaign announced a new “organizational position that the safety of LGBTQ people in the United States requires the adoption of common-sense gun violence prevention measures.” Since then, Donald Trump was elected President with strong support from the National Rifle Association, and today, gun control advocates search for the way forward.

    In 1962, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan pondered in song: “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?  How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

    Dith Pran, the Cambodian journalist who overcame incalculable odds to survive the Khmer Rouge genocide and whose life was the subject of the movie The Killing Fields, years later opined: “What matters is that we remember and we keep talking and maybe someday we will mean it when we say about a holocaust: ‘never again.'” Shouldn’t that someday be now?

    Today, we heed Pran’s words—we remember, we keep talking, and we renew our commitment of a year ago. And this month, we celebrate Pride and all our community has done to reduce hatred, even as we remember all of those we have lost.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.