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In Response to Hate

I am human. I am not gay. I am not transgender. I am not a person of color. I’m a straight, cisgender, white girl from New Jersey. But I am also an ally. I am a lover of the world, of people, of differences, of possibilities and of peace. I am a member of the human race.

Sunday morning, 49 innocents of the LGBTQ community were shot down in Orlando, Florida while celebrating life. That’s 49 individuals who will never again order coffee, go grocery shopping, walk past strangers on the street, or smile at the sun. Forty-nine lives lost, because one man was angry enough, felt empowered enough, to buy two guns and enter Pulse nightclub.

We could say it was all because of this man, that no one could have done anything, but our nation has suffered far too many mass shootings to uphold this ideal any longer. The qualifications to be eligible to buy guns are not strong enough, and frankly no one needs an assault weapon for sport or self-defense. We are living in a system built on freedom and laced with hate, with weak laws opening doors to violence, and we’ve ignored these facts for too long.

When I was ten years old, a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute shot 32 of his peers. I remember my teacher sitting us all down, telling us it’s ok to be scared, to be confused. It wasn’t until I saw the faces of the victims, smiling on the cover of a magazine, that my young mind truly grasped what had happened. I began to wonder about the lives of the individuals, their friends, how so many circles were forced to change in the time it took one man to pull a trigger.

Since then, and long before, we have seen shooting after shooting plague our news feeds. Schools, movie theaters, houses of worship, malls. Deaths, mourning, debate, remembrances – repeat. As the years pass, the shootings have become seemingly more frequent and more politically fueled.

At Pulse nightclub, roughly a year after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country, people were killed for who they love or who they are. Yet love conquers all, does it not? Thousands around the world have shown their support, waving the rainbow flags of LGBTQ pride and proving that life cannot be stopped by one man with two guns.

We must remember these moments. We must grasp the fuel these crowds create and turn it into action. It is too easy to accept that these acts of terror happen. It is too easy to remain on the sidelines, not fighting for change.

Aurora, Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Newton, Blacksburg, Orlando… – the list of towns struck with mass shootings in recent years is frankly terrifying. After so much tragedy, voices across the nation are calling for the cycle of violence to come to an end.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or in a movie theater, or in a night club. And we have to decide if that is the country we want to be,” said President Barack Obama on Sunday afternoon. “To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Not only must we change our laws, but we must change our ideals. Enough with the phobias. Homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia. All are based in ignorance and fear of a different way of life, despite the fact it has been proved time and time again that with diversity comes strength of mind.

Islam is at its core a peaceful religion. Muslims do not inherently hope to destroy freedom, just as not all Christians have the desire to attack abortion clinics. To label all Muslims (or even most Muslims) terrorists is to show ignorance, bigotry, and hatred in an age with an abundance of resources to prove none of that acceptable.

To refuse these resources, to ignore the statements of those targeted, is to perpetuate hate in this world. And to perpetuate hate is to give the next gunman permission to pull the trigger, no matter who the intended victim is.

“Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything,” said Stephen Colbert on his Late Night Show. “Love gives us the courage to act.”

So love. Love without discretion. Love in the face of hatred. Speak up for love. Speak against bigotry. Inform yourself. Inform your neighbors. Inform your goddamn senators. And continue doing so until our nation is one undivided by sexuality, race, gender, or religion.

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