An open letter to the Honorable Rob J. Wittman, Representative of the First District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, sent to him individually on June 13, 2016 in response to the Orlando attack on the queer community and shared for all to see. Modified to remove my own personal details, but…this needs to be said and stated aloud on all forums I belong to. This past weekend has not been kind, and I will not be silent. If you’re a US resident, lease visit http://whoismyvoice.com/ and see who your congressional representatives are, and send them a message of your own. What happened in Orlando cannot happen again, because each day we do nothing is one more that I could be killed for being gay, and you wouldn’t want your favorite occult blogger to be killed, would you? I hope not. Read and share, my friends, and please help me and help each other in this time of crisis for the LGBTQ and Latinx communities. Normally I wouldn’t post such explicitly political stuff on this blog, but this is not a normal time for us.
I am a resident of Prince William County for three years, and a lifelong Virginian. I am privileged to be a member of your constituency, and to live in the beautiful forested foothills of the Appalachians alongside my family, my friends, and my colleagues. I would live in no other place on this green earth, and each day I wake up and breathe this air is one I cherish with joy and love for Virginia and for Virginians. As we say, Virginia is for lovers.
I am also gay, and this past weekend has left me reeling in sorrow and anguish. As you know, early in the morning this past Sunday, June 12, a mentally unstable, homophobic, radicalized madman rushed into the gay club Pulse in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring another 53 before he was killed in a gun fight. These people, though I have never met them, are part of my extended family in the LGBTQ community. Although me and mine are blessed that none of my direct contacts were there that night, many of my friends and colleagues did, and we are all in mourning. Not only is this a grievous attack on the queer community that I call family, but that night was also Latin Night at Pulse, and the vast majority were people of color, largely those of Hispanic and Latin descent; yes, this was a direct attack on the queer community merely for being who they are and loving whom they will, but this was also a painful loss for the Latino community of Florida and for the United States of America.
I know that, according to your website and your voting record in the House of Representatives, you stand for a pro-family stance. Yes, I know that you likely disagree with the 2014 Virginia Supreme Court decision on Bostic v. Schaefer, and the 2015 United States Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges that both guarantee a right for two people of the same sex to marry in Virginia and the United States as a whole, respectively. Yes, I know you likely find my marriage to my husband “wrong” in some sense and that it goes against some of your religious commitments. But, if you have the time, please spare a minute not for prayers and thoughts and heartfelt outreach to the communities of those impacted by the attack in Orlando, but give some thought to the notion of “family” today. My husband and I have formed our own family; while we do not have children, many same-sex couples do, either through adoption, earnest conception, or in vitro fertilization. Regardless what types of families individuals of the queer community choose to raise, we all come from families, men and women such as you and your wife. The loss of any child is uniformly painful to an ineffable degree, much more so if they were innocently slain on a night of celebration of life and love.
Like any guy in his late 20s, I enjoy a good drink and a good night out on the town. However, I find that many places do not accept me because I love and have married another man, and so I turn to specifically gay clubs and bars for nights out. These places are sanctuaries for my community, where we can dance, talk, and meet others without the threat of being judged, insulted, attacked, or killed. Many queer youth have never felt that sort of safety before stepping into a gay club; it is hard to understand, if you’ve been straight all your life, that we cannot take a cute peck on the cheek or the simple pleasure of holding hands in the park for granted. Art, music, stories, and lifelong friendships form in these places of partying and drinking, and their power as social centers in the queer community cannot be understated. However, Sunday’s shooting in Orlando shattered the safety we feel, even given security guards and police protections, and no one escapes that sense of complete and utter faith-shattering despair when we realize that “…by God, it could have been me”. Any night I go out, whether to a gay club or to the Irish pub down the road, whether to the park or to a museum, is one that I could be killed and cut down merely for talking the “wrong” way, walking the “wrong” way, holding hands with the “wrong” person, or any other number of homophobic criteria that make me a scumbag target worthy of being killed, and not a human being with rights and dignity that I deserve as a citizen of the United States of America.
Representative Wittman, please understand that I am not writing to you for the sake of turning you liberal, undoing your pro-family work, or joining the next Pride parade (although you are more than welcome to participate to learn more about me and my community). In fact, I too am very pro-family; the family is sacrosanct and never to be belittled. However, my understanding of the word “family” is somewhat different than yours; I consider ties of love as strongly and as worthy as ties of blood. Understand, Representative Wittman, that any night I go out, or even any day I wake up, is one that I can be killed because I’m queer. Not because I stole from another, not because I insulted another, not because I violated any laws, but because my mere existence is considered detestable and an abomination by those who disregard the law for the sake of killing and murder.
I do not want to be murdered. I do not want my husband, my friends, my colleagues, my allies, or my family to be murdered. I do not want anyone on this planet to be murdered, especially not for the sake and endeavor of love and the pursuit of happiness, and I would hope you would agree and would work to prevent the slaying of your constituents. For us, prayers and thoughts after a shooting may help us through the process of mourning, but they do not prevent any single one of us from being killed.
We need action. Representative Wittman, I need your action. I plead to you as your constituent that you help stand for all families in Virginia, not just those with a man and a woman at the head; that you defend our rights and our dignity as you would for any individual seeking a modicum of joy and solace in this world of violence and terror; that you help prevent mass shootings, both against the queer community and for all communities of all races, religions, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, gender identifications, and all other identities not by post facto moments of silence but preemptive laws and stances that keep weapons of mass destruction and weapons of assault out of the hands of anyone who would use them against their fellow man.
I know that you value input on legislation from the National Rifle Association, but please consider the possibility that they stand for a minority viewpoint that often leads to error and folly, such as those that lead to the saddest of outcomes. I fully admit and cherish the right for us to bear arms for our defense and the defense of liberty against tyranny; my own household makes use of this right and we take pride in our ability and preparedness to stand our own against those who would harm us. That said, this man who was clearly mentally unstable legally bought his weapons of death, and killed near fifty people, some as young as 18 years old. This is not a case of “things happen”; this does not happen in other parts of the world, and we can see that they have taken action that many here refuse to take. We can take that same action while still holding true to our constitutional American principles. Please, Representative, stand for these principles, and also stand for our right to live free from the threat of being murdered.
I know that you take your faith very seriously, but please consider all of what Christ taught, foremost of which was to support and love all of your fellow man, to act first and to judge never. Rhetoric that led to the shooter slaying my community is frequently heard across the world in places dominated by radicalized and extremist governments, but it is also heard in the hallowed halls of the Capitol from your own colleagues. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas shared Galatians 6:7 shortly after news of the attack spread, when Georgia Representative Rick Allen read Romans 1:18-32 and Revelations 22:18-19, when any of us use Christ’s Word as a battering tool to injure and constrain, we implicitly condone a religious excuse to harm, maim, and slay those whom we pass judgment on. Representative, I urge you to repudiate and condemn in no uncertain terms that bigotry of this kind, to heinously use a religion of peace for the purposes of murder, is thoroughly un-American and has no place in our culture, our nation, or our century.
Please, Representative, hear me and the anguished cries of those fallen and slain in my community. We do not want prayers and thoughts; they do not ease the pain of losing a brother, a teacher, a father, or a husband. We want to ensure that this never happens again for anyone in the United States ever again. Nobody should have to live through the pain of knowing our safe spaces are no longer safe; nobody should have to live through the pain of losing our family to a murderous, bloody rampage. I know you don’t for your family, but I want you to make me feel at home in Virginia so that I can feel as safe as you do.
I thank you for your time in reading this letter, and I hope you and yours are doing well.