“It could have been us.”

I kept hearing that Sunday from friends at the Capital Pride Festival and on Facebook.

“It could have been us.”

We know that when we identify as LGBT, we become targets. Whether it’s bullies in schools, politicians who use us to score political points, or those who will go to violent extremes, we know that there are those out there who hate us and are willing to make their hate known.

And we deal with that. We keep it in the backs of our minds at all times. We all know people who have been harassed or the victims of violence, or we’ve experienced it directly ourselves.

We surround ourselves with friends and then we watch out for each other. We live in neighborhoods and cities where we feel safe. And we gather at places with other LGBT people to feel that sense of community and safety.

That’s why this event has shaken my community to its core today. It struck at a place that had become a place where they felt secure and safe and could be themselves. It sets off all of our fears of what could happen to us just because we exist.

So what do we do now?

First, we grieve for our LGBT family in Orlando: those who died or were injured and their loved ones and the entire Orlando LGBT community who have been devastated by this.

Second, we keep doing what we’ve been doing for decades now: be out and proud.

We need to keep coming out to our family, friends, and co-workers. We need to be affectionate with our significant others in public by holding hands or kissing. We need continue to push our elected officials – and those who want to be elected – to support full equality for LGBT Americans and to stop using our community as a punching bag to score points.

And we need to stand up to hatred and bigotry whenever and wherever we encounter it.

There will come a day when this kind of hatred and violence is history. We may not see it in our lifetimes, but it will come. And it’s our job to do all we can to help bring that day closer.

I’m closing this with one of my favorite songs, “O-O-H Child” by The Five Stairsteps. It’s my go-to song when I need to be reminded that there is still hope for the future.

That kind of hope for a brighter future has motivated the LGBTQ community for nearly half a century. That’s the hope we need to continue to hold onto even on dark days like this.

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