We exist all around you.

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I wanted to address Orlando. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but this is all I got.

**trigger warning**
homophobia, gun violence.

I remember the last time I had a major panic attack, openly, in a public space. It was last December, and a friend and I were eating dinner at the Culver City In-N-Out when suddenly, the restaurant (and a few neighboring buildings) lost power. It was clear right away that no one, including the employees, had any idea what was going on, or why it had happened. There hadn’t been an earthquake, and let’s be real, when was the last time weather made the power go out in Los Angeles?

At first, after the building darkened and the whirr of potato peelers and deep fryers quieted, I felt little elementary school Erin come out, thinking “how fun this is! We can all take out our phone flashlights and play one big game of hide and seek!”

Unfortunately that feeling only lasted about ten seconds. I looked around me: people were muttering concernedly, employees were struggling to unlock the side door (which had automatically locked us in when the power went out), the block was dark. My heart began to race; it’s beginning to race thinking about it now. My palms began to sweat. Tears stung the backs of my eyes. This was no longer fun for me, and not just because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and intimate relationship with panic attacks.

This was no longer fun for me because this is the United States of America, the only First World country where there are more mass shootings in a year than there are days.

History has proven time and time again that no place is safe, no place is exempt from these tragedies, and thus we have all been taught—however unconsciously—to always be prepared for the worst. Lockdown drills at school. Safety drills at work in case someone walks into our writing lab with a gun. Think twice before attending a large-scale event. Don’t walk alone at night, or during the day for that matter. This is our reality.

“We have to get out of here,” I said to my friend that night at dinner. “I have to get out of here.”

Poor guy. I could tell he knew I was about to spin out, but didn’t know how to comfort me. There was no calming me down, no telling me that NO ONE in that restaurant had a gun and was about to open fire.

Lucky for us, no one did. But that’s just it. We were lucky. Anything could have happened that night, and it was lucky that all it was was an electricity fluke down the block. And now I sit here tonight, heartbroken because 20 hours ago, 103 people at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida could not be so lucky.

As President Obama said a few years—and probably a couple hundred shootings—ago, “we don’t have to live this way,” and I for one am tired of living this way. I am f**king tired of watching my fellow Americans take these tragedies with a grain of salt, furious but helpless, immediately resigning to the idea that this will just keep happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. That our government—the very people who are supposed to protect us—will never do anything about it, because there are people out there in positions of power who value their guns and an out-of-context Second Amendment more than an actual human life.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, my heart is in pieces. What a beautiful and resilient community, where all anyone wants is to be seen and heard, and to love each other. Although I am bisexual, I recognize my privilege in that I haven’t been on the receiving end of an extreme amount of direct hatred, “merely” microaggressions; still, I ache for those who have. I ache that there’s not more I can do to stop it. I ache that there are people out there who would actively want my friends (or, hell, even me) dead just because of who they (or I) love, and arguably could have an “easy” means to make that happen.

This was NOT an isolated tragedy. This happened in a space that is ~supposed~ to be inclusive and safe for us. This is the direct result of the homophobic statements, comments, and “jokes” that go by unchallenged, and create a mentality of “otherness” or “us vs. them” between queer folks and non. Exhibit A: “no homo.”

So when you’re sending out your ‪#‎ThoughtsAndPrayers‬ to Orlando, Florida, you make for damn sure you know WHO you’re sending them out to and say it OUT LOUD, because we’re here. We exist all around you. We work with you. We’re sitting in your pews at church. By ignoring us, and the profound effect this has had on us, you invalidate us, and perpetuate this cycle of hatred.

Don’t be that person. Think twice before you speak, think twice before you act, and think twice before you hop to your computer screen to tell me your Second Amendment rights trump my right to live freely. THEIR right to live freely.

I stand in complete solidarity with you, Orlando. Much love. SO much love.