The Orlando shooter and my student
To wake up to this morning's news about the Orlando attack was almost unbearable. When things like this happen, I immediately want to hide, to run away. The first phrases that come to my mind are "it's too much" or "there are no words." But there are always words. There has to be a willingness for more communication. Is this a way to combat all the anger and hate out there? I'm not sure.
But I once had a student look me straight in the eyes and tell me he hated gay people. It was just the two of us. I had asked him to stay and talk to me after he had made some pretty horrific comments in class.
My first instinct was to shut him down, to yell at him, to call what he did unacceptable, name him an asshole and kick him out of the room. I didn't. We had a talk about why he felt this way; we discussed his identity and the prejudices he faced or could face. He nodded a lot and then he left. I doubted the whole conversation; I was shaking. I broke down and cried in my office.
A few days later, that student emailed me a long apology letter. It was more than an "I'm sorry for what I said." He had a clear understanding of the impact of his words. His views had changed. He said that he would never again say something that would devalue or dismiss another person's identity or pride.
This is just one story and one outcome, but I like to think he arrived at a place of more understanding and acceptance because space was created for him to do so, because I didn't immediately make him wrong (even though I so wanted to).
Since then, I have had more hope. I have believed people are not born with such antipathy, that they can change.
Mornings like this one challenge those core beliefs. But they also push me to want to do more. We must continue to talk about what we are all so afraid of, to hear the voices of those who have been and continue to be silenced. We must create space to talk with one another, to share our stories, to see and embrace our differences, and still form unity in diversity.
We don't know clear motives of this killer. The father has stated his son had "anger" after he saw two men kissing.
Lately, some people have questioned the need for Pride. Do we still need all the events? The parade? The huge presence?
We need it now more than ever. No one's race or religion or sexuality should ever make them afraid to show who they are. We need to do better. We need to educate. The work cannot stop.
Dani Blackman is a college instructor in Seattle.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines. To submit a story or note one you've seen that deserves more notice, contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.616.2035.