The Second Between Tears and Pride

When the calendar turns to June, LGBTQ Pride Month, the media begins to roll out stories about Pride. We see enormous rainbow flags, photos and videos from past Pride parades, stories about the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights with recently married same-sex couples, and lots of images of LGBTQ families with children. And there are plenty of images of scantily clad, athletic people of all genders sprinkled in like candy dots on top of ice cream. Most of the time this annual cycle lightens my heart and brings a smile to my face as I recall the many Pride parades, festivals and dance-your-tuchus-off events I have attended over the years. I remember not only the celebrating, but also the realization of how much better life has become for me and my fiancé, and for LGBTQ people in the U.S. and many parts of the world during my lifetime.

But this year is different. I’m just not feeling it.

Last summer I was living in Jerusalem and very excited to march with my friends in the Jerusalem Pride parade. Unlike Twin Cities Pride, which feels like a celebration, Jerusalem Pride is a serious demonstration of LGBTQ visibility in a deeply conservative city that bears very little resemblance to Tel Aviv, or even to Minneapolis, when it comes to gay life. Nevertheless, we were pumped up and ready to walk the kilometer and a half from Gan HaAtzmaut (Independence Park) to Gan Pa’amon HaDror (Liberty Bell Park). About half-way along the route the people in front of us began to slow down and then come to a complete stop. Police on horses galloped past us, and there were police cars and ambulances. A medic on a scooter whizzed by. We all reached for our smartphones and it was just a minute or so before the awful news reached us.

A single man had run into the crowd of marchers and began stabbing anyone he could. He stabbed six people, and one of them, 16-year-old Shira Banki, later died from her wounds. Yishai Schlissel, a Haredi man, had just been released from prison after serving a term for stabbing three people at the Pride parade 10 years before. He had written a letter to a community newspaper saying that Jews had an obligation to stop “the parade of sin.” The parade was indeed stopped, but only long enough for the police to arrest the killer and for medical personal to tend to the wounded and to transport them to hospitals. Determined not to allow hate to silence us, event organizers continued the parade. I still remember seeing the bandage wrappers and blood on the pavement as we continued our march forward to the park named after a symbol of freedom and democracy.

This year, as June approached I was feeling grateful to be home in Minnesota. I was keenly aware that I felt safer than I had in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Pride parade took place several months before the onset of the current wave of terror-related violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. I am very fortunate that neither myself or anyone I knew fell victim to violence, but a sense of wariness became a part of every day life. Now, back in the U.S., I was happy to let go of that part of my Israel experience.

And then the Pulse Nightclub mass-shooting happened. Forty-nine souls, mostly Latinx, almost all LGBTQ, perished. This was a devastating tragedy for the survivors and the loved ones of those who were killed. It was also a national tragedy, particularly for the LGBTQ and Latinx communities. And it drove home the fact that, despite advances in civil rights protections LGTBQ people will continue to be a target of violence. The poorly regulated access to weapons of mass killing, semi-automatic rifles, is a continued threat to our safety.

I have spent the last year responding to the threat of violence because of my Jewish and gay identities, and it has been exhausting. Yet, somehow, I have been able to find glimmers of hope.

We have an amazingly resilient LGBTQ community. By the morning after the shooting, a vigil was organized in Loring Park. I was present to see two thousand people of all genders, and sexual orientations gather to provide comfort and support to each other and to show solidarity with the people of Orlando. Gov. Mark Dayton, State Sen. Scott Dibble and many other elected officials joined us to offer words of comfort and also to pledge their commitment to working to end the horrible rampage of gun violence that has gripped our nation. Local religious leaders, including Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel created space for people to weep and to look to our faith traditions for comfort.

While I appreciated the speakers, the most important moment of the evening was when a group of about thirty gathered at the conclusion of the vigil to say the Mourner’s Kaddish. We read the names that had been released up that point, and prayed as Jews pray when their hearts have been shattered by human loss. As the last “Amen” was uttered, there was a single second of silence. In that tiny space our tears, confusion, anger and hopelessness came together as one. There was amazing strength in this coming together. It is in this strength that I find hope.

And even pride.