David Michael Miller
This weekend’s massacre at the Orlando gay club Pulse is personal to me. I have only been able to process pieces of this. The whole would shut me down. Here is one of the many pieces:
On Monday morning, the day after the deadly mass shooting left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded, all of the victims had been identified except for one. My mind quickly took me to a place two decades and a lot of self-work away. I became the unidentified victim.
Closeted. Hours from where I live. In the only place where I can be gay, be sexually attracted to men, and not judged, or worse. It is the middle of the night. The rest of my world can’t see me.
Gay bars rarely have windows for a reason. They are a sanctuary. I was in my sanctuary. A respite from the lies that keep my current world from disappearing in an instant if I told the truth: I am a gay man. No one in the bar will know my last name. No one asks. They know my story by looking at me. It’s a familiar one.
My family will know something is very wrong when I don’t show up to take my mother to church. She doesn’t drive anymore because she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She gets great comfort in her lifelong Primitive Baptist Christian faith, which has served her well. She needs it now more than ever to get through this horrible time in her life of slowly losing her mind while her husband of 40 years dies of cancer. So her closeted gay son takes her to a small church in the country.
Most of the “Brothers” preach in a cadence that sounds more like singing than a speech. Most Sundays there is at least some mention of the sad state of this country when it considers men marrying men and women marrying women. Sometimes the whole sermon is about the homosexual's reprobate mind being an abomination unto the Lord and how the Lord will stop blessing Americans. The chosen ones. The chosen religion. The chosen denomination. The chosen country. His favor will be pulled. We will not be the chosen ones anymore. Even though this faithful house of worship has it right, they are too few in number to save the country. America still must be punished, by...God. The God they worship...because gays might be able to marry.
The police will find my car parked blocks away. I would never park at the gay club. They run my plates. My name revealed. Dots connected.
So, my parents find out like that. Their world would not allow them to have a gay son. They will continue the denial they have lived all of their son’s life. The signs were there. They chose not to deal with it and taught their son to do the same. Carefully let him know he must do the same. That will not change by his murder in a gay bar by a religious zealot who thinks God hates gay people. They will say, “He heard the gunfire and ran into the place because he thought he could help.” Their dead — not gay — son is a hero.
Late Monday the name of the last unidentified victim was released. He was identified by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer as 25-year-old Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez.
John Smallwood moved from Alabama to Madison in 2011 on a temporary assignment. He found it a welcoming place for the LGBT community and now calls it home. His dream is that Madison be as welcoming a place for all, especially people of color.