Why Orlando Hurts So Much

The best job I have had in my career was with Handgun Control, the organization founded and headed up by Jim and Sarah Brady. I accepted the job the same day that Bill Clinton, in his first State of the Union address said “If you all pass the Brady Bill, I’ll sure sign it.” And they did, and he did. In front of an absolutely raucous East Room audience that hooted, hollered and stomped their feet with exuberance. Including me.

I was also on the White House lawn when President Clinton signed the Crime Bill which included the assault weapons ban. I have a great picture of me standing with Attorney General Janet Reno next to a big gash in the lawn where a small plane had crashed a few days earlier. Those were different days for sure.

One of the responsibilities of my job was to work with victims, typically to write speeches or statements for the media or testimony to present in front of Congress. The stories were always gut-wrenching, which was the point. The young woman whose husband died protecting her from a disgruntled worker at their office, his sister. The man whose wife died in the same shooting and left him to raise a ten-month old daughter alone. The wife who huddled under the dashboard as a killer walked along a line of cars waiting to turn into CIA headquarters, shooting her husband at point blank range as he held the steering wheel.

We worked together, one at a time though, not dozens of mothers of schoolchildren, or movie-goers, or church members, or friends and relatives of folks just out at a club for a night of fun.

For a very long time when I was younger, I was a fag hag. I wish there was a better term for this, but unlike being called a Marbleheaded hag, this I always believed was a term of endearment, coined by gay men themselves as a catch-all phrase for the women like me who hung out almost exclusively with gay men.

I went to gay bars every Sunday. We went to tea dance at Buddy’s in the afternoon, grabbed dinner somewhere nearby, then headed over to Metro/Spit/Avalon/Axis/BostonBoston/
15 Lansdowne. I knew the bouncers and the bartenders and felt more comfortable there than really any place else. I danced with my brother and his friends, I made my own friends. We moved back and forth between the disco-centric music side and the new wave music side. We once left Madonna’s performance to go back to Spit, and once stayed to see IRT perform “Watch the Closing Doors.” Go figure.

The only sad thing that ever happened at the club was the news about the latest AIDS victim, or HIV-positive person. One at a time. We celebrated those lost by dancing and drinking and living and loving. Dance, drink, repeat.

Remembering the packed floor at Metro now, all I can think of is that there was nowhere to hide. Where would we have run? Me, my brother, our friends, even our family who have joined us at multiple gay clubs over the years? There was nowhere to hide.

I’d like to think I would be brave, and try to overcome the shooter. “Let’s roll.” It’s so much easier to consider if the shooter has a gun that only shoots one bullet at a time and that doesn’t have a high capacity clip holding hundreds of bullets. I am using hyperbole. Please don’t correct me about the details of what an assault weapon is. Made for war. The end.

I know it doesn’t have to be like this. I know we can put reasonable limits on the  availability of weapons, particularly weapons capable of incredible destruction. I was there. I could have been there.

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