Orlando Can’t Unbend the Arc of Justice

Written by Guest Contributor. Posted in News

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Published on June 22, 2016 with No Comments

People gather around a memorial at Castro and 18th streets on Sunday to remember the lives lost in a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

People gather around a memorial at Castro and 18th streets on Sunday to remember the lives lost in a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. Photo courtesy Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner.

By Juliette Hirt, guest contribution

June 23, 2016

Walking to my pottery studio last Sunday morning in San Francisco’s Castro District, I was stopped in my tracks by a growing crowd in front of a mountain of flowers, signs and candles. When I heard what had happened, my heart sank. Murmurs circulated through the crowd: People with relatives in Orlando waiting to find out, anxiously milling about, checking their cell phones. Old-time activists, shaking their heads, shoulders bent, feeling the grief. I lit a candle, and sat with a young man who thought his cousin was probably at the club. Waiting to hear.

As evening fell, crowds gathered for a vigil and march to City Hall. It was too cold for me, but my daughters went. Candles were passed around, but the gusty wind blew them out. As the night wore on and the march got underway, I got an excited call from the younger daughter. “Mom! Mom! Can you bring my flag? It’s in the basement! I need it!” (Seriously?!) But I knew it was important to her, so I dragged myself up off the couch, hunted around for the giant rainbow flag, and drove down to meet her, not quite sure what I’d find.

As I passed the flag through the car window, it was obvious that the girl was not grieving. She was not crushed. And she certainly wasn’t fearful. On the contrary: She was lit up with pride and conviction. With that particular kind of youthful fire that only flowers when the rights of your community are violently attacked. Superhero fire. The fire of Good in the face of Evil.

Last year, we attended an LGBT dinner at which panelists of different ages told their “coming out” story. Their stories varied widely, but the older people tended to have the worst stories: Disowned by their families, fired by their employers, rejected by their churches. The younger panelists had different kinds of stories, but for all of them, the emergence of their gender identity had been difficult.

I remembered quite clearly the evening I first learned that my daughter was gay: She was twelve when she mumbled that she had something to tell me, calling me into her room just before bedtime. It was awkward. She was clearly uneasy, and hemmed and hawed until she finally got it out: She had a girlfriend. I was a little surprised but not entirely, and I rolled out the thing you’re supposed to say when this happens: “That’s great, honey. What’s her name?”

I had long wondered how she had felt about that moment. So after the dinner, I asked her: What was her “coming out story”? What was it like to tell me?”

She looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” Now it was my turn to feel awkward. “I mean, uh, what did it feel like to tell me, you know, that night? When you told me you had a girlfriend?” What she told me then is a testament to the impact of decades of work, tenacity, and success by the queer community and allies. “You know, I was just embarrased. To tell you I had a girfriend.”

Wow. She was embarrased to tell me that she was romantically involved with another human being, which at twelve can be a pretty awkard thing to tell your parents. That’s all it was. I had always assumed she had called me into her room to tell me she wasn’t straight, but I’d gotten it all wrong. I prodded a little: Had she been nervous about letting me know she was gay? Not a bit: “No, Mom. I didn’t even know that ‘gay’ was a ‘thing.’ It’s just, you know, how I was.”

So I just want to give a shout out to all those older LGBT heroes out there, the activists and survivors, anyone who may be feeling overcome and downtrodden by the horrible, horrible tragedy in Orlando. I want you to know that you have paved the way for a new generation of heroes to carry the flag — and your work has not been in vain.

Juliette Hirt is a lawyer living in San Francisco with her family.