Joining the iconic march down Market Street in San Francisco on the last Sunday in June -- or down any main street anywhere in the world at a Pride celebration -- to us is the essence of Pride. Millions of us together show the world outwardly our inner beauty and strength as LGBTIQ people and supporters. As we march, we hear cheers from the crowd that drown out voices external or internal that have told us there is something wrong with us. We celebrate the gifts of being born LGBTIQ.
This year's parade takes on special significance because of the catastrophic massacre of LGBTIQ people and allies on Latin night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando -- a place where people thought it was safe to come, dance, and be themselves. When we heard the news two Sundays ago, we were filled with utter horror, shock, and sadness. Even though we did not personally know anyone at Pulse nightclub that night, we identified immediately with all those who were there. They were kin. Orlando embodied our worst nightmare as LGBTIQ people -- the fear that someone might attack or kill us simply because of who we are. Many of us have faced such threats, cared for victims of such violence, or mourned the loss of friends or family. For those of us lucky enough to face less risk, Orlando reminds us that millions of people around the world -- LGBTIQ and otherwise -- live with the daily threat of violence.
Orlando also caused us to reflect on how hatred of LGBTIQ people and the belief that there is something wrong with being LGBTIQ is learned and not innate. When the perpetrator Omar Mateen was a toddler crawling on the floor, he was not thinking anti-LGBTIQ thoughts and hating LGBTIQ people. He learned these attitudes. The day after the killings, Mateen's father stated on Facebook that: "God will punish those involved in homosexuality," apparently trying to articulate that people like his son should not punish gay people because God will. His words suggest one potential source of Mateen's learning such horrific ideas.
And the fact that Mateen himself appears to be a person who was attracted to people of the same sex exposes another hideous element of homophobia: self-hatred. Sadly, many of us have felt self-hatred to some degree, and it is deeply disturbing to experience it. Orlando represents self hatred at its worst as Mateen killed and injured so many other people as he destroyed himself.
Never has it been more urgent for people who spread messages of condemnation or rejection to understand the devastating harm they cause, not just in Orlando but around the world to millions of LGBTIQ people and their loved ones on an ongoing basis. In further remarks, Mateen's father stated that "nobody has the right to harm anything, anybody." We agree, and it does not stop with the harm that an assault rifle can inflict on others. Although we embrace the Constitution's guarantees of freedom of thought, expression and religion, messages that that there is something wrong with being LGBTIQ inflict inner and outer harm on LGBTIQ people even when the speaker or writer has no conscious intention to hurt someone else. It matters not whether the message comes in a religious context, like that of Mateen's father, or otherwise.
Lelah Alcorn was a 16-year-old transgender youth from Ohio who concluded that the way she was treated at home, in the church, and at school because she was transgender made life so unbearable that she committed suicide last year. To make her life meaningful, she posted a plea on Facebook, timed to appear shortly after her death. After explaining that one of her parents had told her that she was wrong about her being transgender and that "God doesn't make mistakes," she pleaded: "If you are reading this, parents, please don't tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don't ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won't do anything but make them hate them self. That's exactly what it did to me."
Shortly after the shootings, Stuart's 92-year-old dad wrote us an email that began: "More than ever, you have my love and support, and total empathy for what you and your whole community are enduring." On Sunday, millions of us will set aside our fears to march and cheer to love and support each other as part of the LGBTIQ community. By doing so, we will be inviting the rest of the world to do the same.
Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality.