Orlando Pulse: Why the greatest tribute to the 49 is to be louder and prouder than ever

"There is a way to preserve their memory: We must go on loving whoever the hell we want."


Words: Hugh Kaye

There’s a scene from possibly the best TV show ever made that’s been rattling around in my mind in the past few days.

I’m talking about The West Wing, and the scene I can’t shift from my head is when the president’s aide, Charlie Young, bumps into a maintenance man in the White House. They get talking and the assassination attempt which provided the cliffhanger to the previous series comes up.

At first it’s assumed that President Bartlet was the target, but it turns out that the white supremacist gunmen were aiming at Charlie, a young black man who was dating his white boss’s daughter.

The older man tells Charlie: “If they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.” I know this may sound insensitive, but I can’t help thinking that’s how we should feel as we reach another anniversary of the slaughter at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Because the more the haters hate us, the more we know we deserve to be who we are and deserve all the rights accorded to other groups. That includes being able to go a nightclub and get home safely afterwards. When we are denied that, we have a right to protest and to hold vigils (even if the Daily Mail likes to pretend it never happened).

The loss of life that awful night in Orlando affects us all, although nowhere near as much as it does those who had friends and loved ones taken from them. All we can do is carry on carrying on.

It seems that every time we win new rights or increase our visibility, we are met with a backlash - just as there was following the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales 50 years ago.

A large part of me wishes Omar Mateen had lived so that he could have been brought to justice. I want to be able to think of him rotting away in a prison cell day after day, year after year just as Sirhan Sirhan – the man who assassinated Bobby Kennedy in 1968 – is.

Sirhan has been denied parole 15 times since then. He’s spent twice as long in jail as he was a free man. He can’t apply again until 2021 and he’s unlikely to ever be released.

I would have liked to see Mateen suffer the same fate. He might have been able to hide it, but he would have hated that. Hated seeing us win. A quick death – or execution – was too good for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the families who lost loved ones in the Manchester bombing felt the same way about Salman Abedi. But being the coward he was, Mateen denied us that.

But we can still laugh in his face by continuing to go to the numerous Pulses around the world, by refusing to be scared and by refusing – as we do best – to be quiet.

Just being ourselves and being visible as gay men is itself a political act. We are all activists in our own way. The 49 people who died on 12 June 2016 would surely not want us to meekly surrender. They went out one night pretty much like any other night and died. We did not. There is a way to preserve their memory: We must go on loving whoever the hell we want and having the sort of fun we want.

You want to hack off people like Omar Mateen? Do you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Accept diverse things and diverse people. Live a full life. Keep accepting more than one idea.

It’s called pluralism - and it makes people like him absolutely crazy. But that’s a whole different episode of The West Wing...