From Oz to Orlando

Orlando

On the Fourth of July in 2002, I found myself having the time of my life at a club in New Orleans called Oz. And so when the massacre at Pulse in Orlando occurred this weekend, I felt an array of emotions, because change the date and location, and I could have been part of the horror in Florida.

I was married in 2002, and spent my honeymoon in New Orleans from late June through early July. On the Fourth, my wife and I decided to take a riverboat cruise of the Mississippi with dinner and drinks and a prime spot for the fireworks.

After dinner, while I was happily staring at the mighty river and thinking about Twain (yes, I really did that), my wife was chatting up the couple next to us. Chad and Brian were just a little bit younger than, knew the city well, and were in town for a mini-vacation of their own. We talked and enjoyed each other’s company and then when it was time for the fireworks, Chad, who was military, explained the chemical reactions that were occurring to create the various colors of the fireworks. It was stunning. All of it. The river, the city, the fireworks, the company. And so when Chad and Brain asked us to join them for drinks after, we jumped at the invite.

We met on Saint Ann Street, which essentially begins the LGBTQ district in the French Quarter. My wife and I had no idea that this was the case, but when Chad and Brian met us and asked if this was okay, it was. New Orleans is as vibrant as any city can be, and especially then, pre-Katrina, it was glowing. So we followed along to a club called Oz, because there was to be an annual show for the Fourth.

And a show there was. I will skip some of the details as they are not pertinent, here, but I will say that my wife and I spent hours at Oz. We met people Chad and Brian knew, hung out and told stories of our lives, and everyone there loved that this was our honeymoon and that we chose to spend part of it with them.

This situation–strangers being happy for us and wanting to be with us–was actually a regular occurrence in New Orleans once we told them it was our honeymoon. But, at Oz, and later at the club across the street, the thrill of having us was more effusive. We literally felt like honored guests, and walking home that night and discussing it thereafter, it was obvious to my wife and I that it was precisely because we were not the expected, that we were an open and accepting heterosexual couple, that made it unique. Which is at the same time wonderful and heartbreaking.

I have to think that the people who were celebrating PRIDE week at Pulse were out to enjoy themselves, to revel in a time in our country when legal marriage is on the table, where people are becoming more accepting, where I would assume, people like my wife and I were not as unique.

Of course there is the other side to the story, the one that will be everywhere, the focus on the killer and not the victims. I don’t want to spend any time there, because that is an injustice to the loved ones lost. 

It is a disturbing mark of our country that hate is still so sanctified. That people still feel so self-righteous as to believe it is fine for them to hate. Because that’s what this boils down to. Pin it to any cause or belief or religion, it is at its base, a measure of disgusting hate. And it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. Not for the LGBTQ, nor for any other marginalized group.

This is not the country I want. This is not the county I believe so many of us want. But some do. Or possibly, so many. Because the hate is omnipresent, and as much as it is fought, it continues in its vitriol. I literally cannot understand it. And I don’t want to lose family, friends, any loved ones to it. I don’t want to look down the road and watch my daughters lose their friends and family and loved ones to it. I don’t want them to ever be afraid to go out and to celebrate with whomever they want, like my wife and I did. 

Maybe we were naive as twenty-somethings. Maybe we should have been afraid of the walk home, when we saw plenty of drunken fools giving us the side-eye. But we weren’t. Not in that moment, not during the good time we were having. Because the point of all this freedom is that we get to enjoy it. All of us.

I will be in Orlando for the ALA convention in less than two weeks, and I intend to support the victims by donating blood or money or books or whatever I can. I refuse to give in to the fear. And yes, it’s a lot easier for me to say that, to be “brave” when I am an ally of the community and not a targeted member, which is possibly why I feel the weight of such hang on me. 

I was able to walk into Oz and back to my hotel with my wife, and in spite of the side-eye, we were fine. No one bothered us. Had I been with my husband, or she, her wife, different story. That is the brutal sadness to it. That is the hate.

We can only do what we can, but maybe we should do more. The beauty of this country and how it operates should be in our hands. I’m not sure that’s the case. But I would also not suggest we throw in the towel. We can choose to live in a bubble, or we can choose to pop it, and step out with eyes and hearts wide open.  

 

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