Eddie Sotomayor was a real life friend and hero– not just another name on the list of Orlando’s tragic casualties.
The first thing I thought when I heard that my friend, Eddie Sotomayor, was one of the casualties of yesterday’s heartbreaking massacre of LGBT people was simply that he was ‘one of us.’ I don’t mean that he was gay, or that he was from Florida, I mean that he was one of the first people I met when I moved to Tampa for college, where I lived for 8 years, just an hour from Orlando. He was part of one of the groups that welcomed me into my first gay community and made me realize I had a place in the world. A place where I felt like I belonged. Though I’ve since moved on geographically, Eddie remained one of those people that I always ran into at seemingly random times, making me laugh with his razor-sharp wit on the streets of New Orleans, or catching me up on his life just weeks ago at a bar in Ybor City. I remember watching him that last time after we had our chat, thinking about how far we had both come in our lives when we started out on similar paths. I remember wondering what he would end up doing, and where he would go from there. And now his story is finished, just as it has begun. In Eddie’s story, he ends up being the hero because he was sacrificed so mercilessly, as were so many others, to remind the world that this war we are fighting is far from over.
Our war for love has turned into a literal war– with real bullets and real death and real violence.
For many gay people, the war has felt over for a while. When we achieved marriage equality (and I say achieved because it didn’t come without the hard work of so many thousands), a lot of us felt like the battle for equality and acceptance was all but over. We felt vindicated, seen, and heard. We felt like we were finally being acknowledged as citizens of this country. We felt normal. Many of us who have lived lives in fear of being ourselves in public, or worried about being beaten or killed just for showing minor affections, relaxed into the feeling that we had won the war, and our progress was unstoppable.
From the archives: What is gay pride in Africa really like?
And then, yesterday, 49 of us were brutally murdered, and 53 more were injured by hate. I say hate, because it wasn’t a gun that did this, it wasn’t a terrorist group, and it wasn’t even a person. HATE did this. HATE is the reason that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are in a hospital dying, but we can’t even give them our own blood. OUR community, the one WE built to shield ourselves from the hate of a still-evolving mainstream society, and filled with clubs just like Pulse so we would have places to feel safe and be ourselves, is BLEEDING, and we aren’t allowed to help.
The media is calling this a terrorist attack, and citing ties to ISIS, and blaming gun laws, and Muslims, and Republicans. Others are saying that this has nothing to do with politics, and was a simple hate crime. Others are saying this was a grand conspiracy against Americans and had nothing to do with targeting the LGBT community. This tragedy has split our society even more than we possibly could’ve imagined just a few days ago when our country was already at critical mass. There’s only one common thread there, and it’s hate. You hating him, him hating you, you loving everything and everyone but a republican, a republican loving everyone and everything but women’s rights– no matter how ‘tolerant’ we all are, there’s just still so much hate. Hate for the left and the right and the middle, and that’s the hate that clogged up all the pipes that should’ve been delivering the quick STOP to the massacre of my friend and community.
This WAS a terrorist attack based sheerly on the fact that it was meant to oppress, hurt, or kill a group of people, and send a message that gay people are less than human and deserve to die based solely on who they love. We have all read reports that the shooter called 911 beforehand, and pledged his life to ‘ISIS’, but that doesn’t make him part of that organization. ISIS, in this case isn’t an organization, but an idea. ISIS represents HATE, and that this massacre was carried out in the name of ISIS just serves to add fuel to fires all over the world. ISIS may have started as an organization of Islamic radicals, but it has festered into an idea, based on hatred and intolerance, from which none of us are truly safe. Somehow every Godless hate-filled beast is suddenly idolizing ISIS. Hate is killing us. Hate is killing my friends.
Every time I looked at my Facebook feed after waking up yesterday, I cried. I cried because I thought of 49 of my brothers and sisters, dying on the floor. I thought of all their phones ringing and the family members on the other end, who would never see them alive again. I thought of Eddie, my friend, who I was initially told was okay, giving his life to a bullet from an assault rifle fired by a coward. And I thought of how easily this could have happened to anyone else I know. I thought of how often this does happen in our country, and how nothing has been done to stop it, even in Sandy Hook, when the cost was the lives of children.
I felt helpless. I still feel helpless. That is why I’m writing this, because I don’t know what else I can do. All I can do is say what I think. So for those people saying this has nothing to do with politics, you are dead wrong. It is absolutely about politics. The main function of politics in this country is supposed to be keeping Americans safe. Politics are supposed to make sure we have the freedom to go dancing on a Saturday night with our friends and family without worrying about being sprayed with bullets from a weapon designed to murder. Politics are supposed to make sure that in an emergency like this, we are allowed to give our own blood to help our brothers and sisters, instead of being viewed as second class citizens, with tainted blood, judged by society down to the very liquid that flows through our veins. Politics are the reason much of society is blaming ISIS when very little is actually done to stop radical hate. Why is anyone’s radical hate trying to kill my radical love?
As long as humans have been on this Earth, there has been conflict. There will always be groups of people who can’t understand each other, or who worship different gods and believe in different dogma. Differences aren’t to blame for this tragedy. Guns aren’t to blame. The only thing we can really blame is hatred. The seeds of this hatred are sown every time someone looks the other way when a 6th grader, who may not even understand what being gay means, is bullied or beaten for being different. They start to sprout every time someone reads about conflict in the Middle East and blames all cultures within it as a whole. And they bear fruit when someone embraces hatred from seeing two men kissing, and buys an AR-15, and walks into a random nightclub to take innocent lives away from people who wanted nothing more than a safe space. A place to feel part of a community, and to feel at home. A place free from hate.
I keep saying ‘someone’, because ‘someone’ is you. It’s all of us. This culture of hate has grown, fueled by terrorist organizations like ISIS, just as it is fueled, in America, by everyday citizens that just accept things the way that they are. We need to do our best for ourselves and remember that Golden Rule from kindergarten. Is it really so hard?
Somewhere in the past few days, between bouts of random tears I started to wonder why I was crying. It wasn’t because I lost a friend, or because it hit so close to home. It was because thousands of people’s lives will be forever changed and affected by the HATE of one person. The loss starts with 49, and flows outward. It is palpable, and heart wrenching. I can only hope that it will make a difference, and that politicians will actually step in with real action instead of words, and do something to stop the culture of HATE from bleeding into our lives in such a tragic, and permanent way. Remember all those WORDS after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino? We’re still in basically the same place, and I’m a gay man who has never so much as hurt another human in the slightest way– why can’t my wish for a safer American for everyone be granted? I want your children, your families, yourselves, and yes, even my community to feel like ‘this land was made for you and me.’
Yesterday was the day that a friend of mine died. It is also the day that the world was shaken, and reminded that we aren’t safe, and that the laws in place in our country need to change in order to protect us from radicals, and terrorists, and homophobes, but most of all HATE. We were reminded that gays and lesbians aren’t legal equals of our heteronormative counterparts, and that even though we have come so far, the war for love isn’t over. We will continue to battle with our positivity and our hearts, while others bring out ammunition we would never even dream of competing with.
I want to honor my friend Eddie Sotomayor’s life– and I want his soul to rest in peace knowing that his friends are here on Earth doing the job of spreading acceptance. Please join me. Get rid of hate by searching for it in your own existence and recognizing it in others. When you see it, confront it with love. It’s the way our community makes great strides.
If you wish to donate to help Eddie’s family in this difficult time, CLICK HERE.