What My Gay Son Taught Me About the Orlando Massacre

rainbow light on palm of handForty-nine young people, massacred in cold blood. Out dancing in the one place that was safe; the one place free of shame; the one place you were your true self; the one place you didn’t worry about being judged; the one place to gather with LGBTQ peers; the one place without fear of rejection—from the outside community, your religion, your own family— siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and worse yet, parents.

Members of many minority groups, especially racial minorities, at least have their families to come home to. Children don’t have to explain the pain to them. Children don’t have to come home and say, “Mom and Dad, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m Jewish.” But that’s how it is for LGBTQ kids.

Coming out to heterosexual parents is announcing, “I’m not the child you thought I was. I’m not one of you.” For an LGBTQ child, it doesn’t bring you closer to the family; it separates you.

Some may say they knew; others will be shocked, angry, or sad; some will ask, “Are you sure?” After the initial reaction, there is a period of adjustment. If you’re lucky, your family members will be loving and accepting. If not, you may get rejected for being who you are. You may even get thrown out of the house.

The nightclub in Orlando was a safe, even sacred space—a refuge for LGBTQ family. After the massacre, even that was gone.

That’s what my gay son just taught me. That’s why this is beyond horrific. It was a violation of the one space that, to the LGBTQ community, was home.

My husband and I, along with our son, attended the Baltimore City vigil to support the 49 people who were gunned down in Orlando and the survivors. It was a beautifully diverse group: young people, older people; gay, straight, transgender; black, white, Asian, Latinx; Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and atheist.

I watched the expressions of pain on their faces, felt the fear of hatred and violence, and witnessed up close how discrimination manifests itself. The tears of these sweet, loving people who came out to share their humanity, love, and grief overwhelmed me. They just want to be who they are, and love whom they love, without being under the microscope of people who have nothing better to do than judge and spread hate.

As they read the names and ages of the 49 victims, I broke down and cried. Each one of them could have been my child. I cried for the victims; I cried for their parents and loved ones. I cried for my son.

At the end we were asked to hug the people around us, whether we knew them or not. I felt connection; I felt humanity; I felt safe. Then it was over—back to the real world.

What do we do after the horror of Orlando?

  • Feel it: the anger, the outrage, the helplessness, and underneath, the pain and sorrow.
  • Reach out to your LGBTQ family members, friends, and co-workers. Let them know you support them, you love them, and that you’re an ally. Give them a hug.
  • If you hear others make derogatory comments or jokes, speak up. Talk about how that hurts people in the community.
  • Have conversations with others to create more allies. Share your story.

I learned a lot that night. Now I know I have to work even harder to speak up, to help others understand more about the LGBTQ community. I have to tell our story more often. That’s what changes hearts and minds—one person at a time, one conversation at a time.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander LCSW-C, BCD, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Randee

    June 24th, 2016 at 9:32 AM

    If only other parents could be as open minded to continue to love and accept their children whether they are gay or not. I have seen too many families who are torn to pieces over this and I honestly do not understand the reasons behind it. So it may not be what you had always envisioned but if this is your child and another person of the same sex is the person who happens to bring him or her happiness and joy in their lives, then who cares? Shouldn’t we simply be happy and content knowing that they have someone to love in this way and who loves them just the same way?

  • rebecca

    June 24th, 2016 at 12:48 PM

    I have not always been so friendly toward the gay community as I am now. Growing up I believed the hatred and the lies that I grew up around so this was the same hatred that I too would spew. Going away to college was very much an eye opener to me, one that I am glad that I had. I will never judge someone again for something that I know nothing about. As far as I am concerned live and let live.

  • Clayton

    June 24th, 2016 at 5:29 PM

    I am sorry that any of us have to learn from a tragedy like this

  • Lori H.

    June 25th, 2016 at 6:56 AM

    Randee, I so agree with you. If only there was no judgment and we could all live our lives in peace, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation…, it would be a much better world. When we got involved in advocacy for Marriage Equality in 2011, I learned more about discrimination and prejudice than I ever wanted to know. It’s out there and it’s really sad. What breaks that down is talking to people about it, listening to others’ thoughts and feelings, and responding to them in a thoughtful and kind way, even when we disagree. That has worked for us, we just have to keep on doing it. Thanks for your comment. Lori

  • Lori H.

    June 25th, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    Rebecca, Thanks so much for your genuine comment. I’m glad you had the opportunity to be in a college environment and see that differences are not to be judged, but are more something to expand our view of the world. There are so many different types of people on the planet; sometimes we forget that we are all human beings underneath. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    June 25th, 2016 at 10:58 AM

    Clayton, I so agree. This is tragic. Lori

  • Douglas

    June 25th, 2016 at 10:58 AM

    There are so many more people who need those experiences to see that we are not all that different from the heterosexual community but I am afraid that if we happen to go in the wrong direction and elect the wrong government officials in the fall then we are going to continue to feel the hatred of many toward us. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair but it is something that we have to all remain prepared for.

  • Marquis

    June 26th, 2016 at 5:05 AM

    I am not all that sure that an event like this would even make my family more accepting of me. I think that more than anything it will just make them look at me and say see? This is what living like this brings on. Now that in the end just would make me feel even worse so I am going to continue to hide who I really am all with the knowledge that I will never fully be able to be who I am for fear of hurting the others in my life.

  • Lori Hollander

    June 26th, 2016 at 10:04 AM

    Marquis, Your situation hurts my heart. In some families, coming out might be worse than not. Have you heard of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)? It’s a national support group for parents and individuals in the LGBTQ community and has chapters everywhere. My husband and I have been part of the organization for 5 years and have marched in Pride Parades with our fellow PFLAGers. There are MANY young people like you who come to the meetings. As PFLAG parents we are there to give support to those in the LGBTQ community who don’t have that support in their own families. You can find a chapter at PFLAG.org. Please check it out. You will find parents like us there. If you need assistance finding a chapter, email me at lhollander @relationshipswork.com. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    June 27th, 2016 at 4:55 AM

    I totally agree. We need people like you to get involved in campaigning for the nominee that you want. If you contact your local political organization it will give you a chance to meet other like minded people and participate in the process of electing the candidate you want. It’s a very empowering experience. We have done this in the past and I encourage you to do the same. Thanks for your comment! Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    June 27th, 2016 at 4:57 AM

    The above comment was responding to Douglas.

  • Rojer

    June 27th, 2016 at 8:09 AM

    Although I do not feel this way of course there have been social and even professional settings where someone has said something mean or derogatory about a member of another race or even gay people and I know that I should speak up and say something but I don’t. I don’t know what I am afraid will happen, but it comes to being in a certain place with certain people and we just say nothing.
    My pledge from here on out is to try to remember that If I don’t take a stand and I continue to say nothing, then who will? Will we all continue to take our cues from the closed minded members of society? Or will we all take a lesson from these events and learn that we have to speak up to make sure that change becomes a reality in this world?

  • Lori Hollander

    June 27th, 2016 at 1:18 PM

    Rojer, Thank you so much for your support. Believe me, there are many people who find it uncomfortable to say something. I used to be one of them. I think It’s the fear of the other person judging you, being offended or starting an argument. I started to do it anyway and now it’s my new normal. My activism taught me that hearts and minds are changed one conversation at time, that’s why it’s important to speak up. There’s an organization called Straight For Equality. They publish a booklet for allies with suggestions about how to respond to derogatory remarks on Page 21 and Page 31+. This helped me when I first started to speak up. You can find it on their website: Guide to Being A Straight Ally straightforequality.org/About.html

  • Greg

    June 28th, 2016 at 9:23 AM

    Many people who are questioning and asking are only looking for some place safe. And you are right- when things like this happen at the places where you have taken as your refuge, that becomes very haunting.

  • Lori Hollander

    June 28th, 2016 at 2:42 PM

    Greg, Yes, It is very difficult. Thanks for sharing. Lori

  • Jaye

    June 28th, 2016 at 4:15 PM

    love is love is love is love is love
    that’s what I continue to take away from this

  • Lori Hollander

    June 29th, 2016 at 7:35 PM

    Jaye, Yes!

  • Mackenzie

    June 30th, 2016 at 4:44 AM

    It is often easier to learn when you have something that will open your eyes.
    I have to say that this was an event that really did open my eyes and now I see that hatred is getting us nowhere. I have never given too much thought to how gays live and what terrorists are doing because honestly that never did hit close to home for me. But I live in Florida, pretty near Orlando, so this could have just as easily been in my hometown as it was yours. I think that the reality of that has forced me to look at things differently and to hopefully become a better person than what I have been in the past.

  • Lori Hollander

    July 1st, 2016 at 7:03 AM

    Thanks so much for seeing this and for leaving your comment! Lori

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.