Discuss and debate the issues that mean the most to you.
I'm going to preface this article with the fact that I am gay. I want to make that very clear from the start because, yes, it will make a difference in my views on the subject and, yes, it also means that if you are straight, you probably won't be seeing this in the same washed-out rainbow colours that I am. That doesn't mean you don't get a say. It doesn't mean your outrage isn't appreciated and deeply needed in what was the deadliest mass shooting in American history. It doesn't mean your voice isn't vital, and it doesn't mean your opinion isn't valid.
It does, however, mean that this isn't about you.
Early Sunday morning, a man walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando with guns on his person and proceeded to kill as many LGBT people and their allies as he possibly could, before taking hostages and, eventually, being gunned down himself. This barbaric act of mass-murder seems inconceivable, and yet, I can't be the only person who had the fleeting thought when I read the news that it was bound to happen somewhere, eventually.
Let's be clear: I don't think religious extremism was the sole cause of this shooting. But that doesn't matter. It was still a terrorist attack, linked to a pledge with ISIS, and it was still very clearly linked to a hatred of gay people — in this instance, a predominantly Latin crowd (a point so many news outlets seem to be leaving out).
It feels personal. It feels, amongst many other things, like this is about me, too. It's about me and my friends and my girlfriend and all the people in the world who have ever come out. It was about all of us. I was just lucky enough to live in London, on the other side of the world, and to be playing a gig at a wedding in Derby that night instead of partying it up in an Orlando gay club.
Omar Mateen told the world that I am disgusting; that my life and the lives of my LGBT brothers and sisters around the globe are not worth anything. That he would rather sacrifice his own life to kill as many of us as possible than allow us to live our own lives the way we feel is right.
Bataclan was like that too, and it happened a lot closer to home for me. But that was a well-oiled machine of terrorist cells planning and synchronizing a series of high-scale terror attacks to shock the world.
This was a man with a gun who hated "faggots."
The following night, political activist and journalist Owen Jones went on Sky News to discuss the coverage of the event. It should be stated that Owen is gay and, like me, the events at Pulse hit him hard. The truth is, the constant barrage of (at best) questions and (at worst) ridicule and hatred thrown at gay people every day has not gone, and it hurts to see any member of our community mistreated or maligned.
We may be relatively safe here in England, but we still have to make a conscious decision to walk down the street with the one we love. Even in this liberal city of London, something as simple as holding hands can become the biggest of statements. Even a peck on the cheek can mean shouts and jeers or worse, physical abuse.
"People know this who are gay, that there are people out there who are sickened and repulsed by our very existence."
Jones said this to Mark Longhurst during the discussion last night. It seems so obvious to me, but then again, I know what it's like to have to go through all the options and possible outcomes in my mind every time I step outside.
Evidently, Longhurst does not. He seized on every opportunity to erase the homophobic context of the murder and instead paint it as "something that's carried out against human beings." He didn't want it to be about the "gay agenda." He wanted it to be about him.
Similarly, Julia Hartley-Brewer — who, to her mild credit, did accept the clear homophobic angle of the attack — speculated that perhaps the murderer would have been "just as horrified by me as a gobby woman" as the hundreds of gay people in the club he had specifically targeted that night. Yep. She made it about her.
I want to make it clear. There is no "gay agenda" here. There is no "make it all about us." There is simply a morgue somewhere with 49 dead LGBT people and their allies and a hospital filled with those who made it out.
But Jones was continuously told as a gay man he was trying to have "ownership" over the crime, and every time he brought up that it was a hate crime specifically against LGBT people, he was told it was an attack on the "freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves."
Owen Jones went on television as a gay man, and continuously had his community and his pain erased.
"You don't understand this because you're not gay!" he exclaimed and was shot down again.
To be fair it's a line that never works. Trust me, we've all tried it more than once. But that doesn't mean it isn't true.
I can't even fathom what it must have felt like to be black when Dylann Roof shot and murdered black churchgoers in Charleston last year. I can't imagine how daunting it must be to be a Muslim in countries where people literally spit at you on the street for wearing a hijab. That doesn't mean I cannot empathize, but it means I have to accept that my role in the discussion is to learn as much as it is to impart.
Similarly, if you're not gay, you don't know what it's like to be gay. You cannot possibly understand the extra struggles and issues we face every day. And that's fine! Really, it is. But do not try to make this shooting about you.
We need your support, but we don't need you to erase the simple fact that this was about us.
So to my straight allies: We need you. All of you. We need your voices, your words, your hearts. We need your policies and your acceptance and your love. And we need your ears. We need you to listen to us when we tell you this hurts. We need you to understand why so many of us are crying so hard even though we don't know a single person who was there that night. We need you to listen. We need you to try to understand, and we need you to hold our hands as we begin to heal.
Owen Jones walked out of that interview, and I don't blame him. At a certain point what else could he do? If anything, the past few nights have served to remind us all that the fight isn't over. Not even a bit.
But us LGBT folk are strong. We've come so fucking far, and we'll keep going no matter what.
For today though, it's time to mourn. We'll allow our hearts to break and weep for the victims of another disgusting hate crime. We'll do it in the knowledge that the light in the world shines a little less bright than we might have hoped and we have a long way to go to make it right.
But we'll do it together. We'll stand with our gay brothers and sisters. We'll stand with our straight allies and the mothers and fathers of the movement. We'll stand with our trans* friends and our pansexual cousins. We'll stand together. Hand in hand. In love.