The first gay bar I ever visited was in Orlando. I remember running out on the dance floor and going nuts when Kiss came on — By: Prince, recently deceased, and forever provocative. My memory of the bar includes the friendly men and women I met. They were quick to dole out compliments and laughter. The bar, cultivated a safe space where non-judgment and self-expression reigned. It felt safe to explore questions regarding my sexuality and learn about different ways of living and loving.
Fast forward many years later, June 2016…
Two dear friends are getting married and a feeling of love and pride pervades the room as our friend Nathalie eloquently opens the ceremony. ‘Welcome family and friends to this most joyful gathering in honor of our beloved Sheri and Pelican!’
The brides profess their vows. A flag is displayed, “Born This Way,” professing LGBTQ sentiments. The words spoken by one of the brides express the “progress we’ve made,” toward equality, within the vastness of the civil rights spectrum.
‘To the witches, queers, mystics, revolutionaries, outcasts, sympathizers and allies; All who have been persecuted throughout history because of who you are, the color of your skin, or who you love. We stand before you tonight, together in celebration of our love and as witnesses to the evolution of humanity. We have come a loooong way!
Throughout the ages, our tribe has not been able to do what we are doing here tonight. A legally sanctioned public celebration of our love and union was not allowed, and in many places around the world is still persecuted, sometimes by death.
So tonight, here and now, we celebrate our love and the right to express our love. For both Pelican and I, an important part of getting married is creating this ritual with those dear to us. Thank you for standing with us.’ ~ Sheri Falco
The guests dance into the night; some dressed in alter-ego attire, some in traditional wedding apparel, and some in full costume; it is a self-expressive, proud, celebratory high…until, the next morning.
Hearing the news of the mass murders in Orlando reminded me of how my stomach dropped after hearing about the shootings at the church in Charleston and the elementary school in Sandy Hook. The juxtaposition of innocent people being attacked in their safe places; of worship, of learning and on the dance floor was breathtaking.
The following day, standing at a Vigil in Orlando amongst hundreds of people grieving the latest, deadliest mass shooting in American history, it occurred to me:
The motivations behind acts like these are incomprehensible and complex while simultaneously, stunningly simple. Racism, terrorism and homophobia can be linked to low socioeconomic position, lack of education, poor parenting, revenge, a violent culture and on and on, but, they all boil down to ignorance and fear.
When seemingly senseless things happen, feelings of confusion and helplessness are prevalent. As a culture it is important to grieve. It is also vital to use the events as a catalyst for action. A clear mission can help us move forward. Just as there was a cycle of evolution and revolution in the mid-60s, triggered by the horrors of Vietnam, this latest cycle of violence can be used as a springboard toward peace, if only we have courageous conversations on a strong foundation of commitment. After events in Turkey, now is the perfect time to define for ourselves what that commitment looks like.
After the attacks, folks lined up around the block to donate blood. Many were sent home because the capacity to receive their help was maxed out. People came out in droves to show solidarity at the vigil. We have a deep hunger for change and an overflow of energy to accomplish these changes. The question that seems to arise is:
How can we create/utilize systems that channel the power of good will efficiently so that we can effectively focus our energy to create a more peaceful world?
Here are a few ideas for anyone who wants to declare themselves a #lovewarrior
1. Understand anger and root out violence.
Whether toward ourselves or others, violence comes in many forms, and appears across many levels of intensity. One of the definitions of violence is as follows: Strength of emotion or of a destructive natural force. Self-loathing is violence. Road rage is violence. Bullying is violence. We can continue to question and learn about the root causes of violence (unhealthy anger/fear) and heal it in ourselves. As we become aware of the many small ways we act or think violently, we illuminate more clearly what has been lurking in the collective psyche.
2. Fortify ourselves with the wisdom of the masters and the poetry of non-violence.
In December 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a 12-minute acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, that is still relevant. Take a listen:
“… nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Feel free to share your favorite quotations, poems or speeches in the comments below.
3. Be responsible with our resources.
Dollars are votes, and attention is vitalizing energy. We can demand change with these intrinsic resources. Companies, like legislators, are only as powerful as the support they receive.
* We can buy products from companies with compassionate values.
* We can be aware of what we watch and read and listen to. We are either programming ourselves consciously, or we are amongst the programmed. Advertisements, news, even email, can influence us and steer our behavior if we are unaware.
* We can focus on courageous and kind acts. Like the courageous college student who tackled a gunman and prevented further tragedy in Washington. Media companies direct their programming based on where we are focusing our attention.
4. Be true to ourselves and celebrate our freedoms.
One of the victims whom I heard speaking said that the very first thing he was going to do when he healed up was go out dancing again. Bravo. It is courageous to carry on.
As Henry David Thoreau said,
If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
When we live true to ourselves, we are truly living, and encouraging others to fully live through our example.
5. Be friendly and curious about those different than us.
Fear breeds fear, and smiles are contagious. Blame it on the mirror neurons. Many of the problems we experience are a result of a fear of different. It requires a bit more to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and question our preconceived ideas, but it is well worth it. It is time to evolve. We can build bridges by diversifying our friend group. Have a conversation with someone who holds a different view, and really listen. Lend support in a new neighborhood. This is one of the ways artists shape our culture. Artists celebrate different, and infuse life and beauty into their environment. Embrace your inner artist.
‘I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, But rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.’ ~ Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe
6. Be generous by taking responsibility.
Take responsibility for white/straight/male/socioeconomic/American, etc. privilege and/or unloving actions through acknowledgment. This is different from being guilty. Acknowledgment heals. Here are a few inspiring examples:
7. Speak up when we see things that don’t seem quite right.
As love warriors, it is important to keep our eyes open, to help stop someone from harming another if we sense danger. There are many expressions of love. Compassionate love, honest love, understanding love, courageous love. Boundary-enforcing actions and kind confrontations are also Love.
8. Cultivate compassion and Perform acts of kindness.
You never know if the smile you extend or the words of encouragement you speak will prevent violence. A wonderful book written by Dan Goleman outlines the Dalai Lama’s vision for the world. It covers a wide range of topics, from emotional hygiene and caring for the environment, to smart, practical ideas for improving education. One of the main themes is how we can change the world through simple compassionate actions. I highly recommend reading it: A Force for Good. The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World
To defeat violence, we must become very strong in love. Loving the unlovable into oblivion. Now get out and be your awesome self, you love warrior, you.