Orlando, you are not alone

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#unitecloud friend, Justin, put a simple call out yesterday after learning of the Orlando mass shooting at a gay club called Pulse:

20160612_175459-1To the Saint Cloud area LGBT community and allies:

Tonight at 6:00pm, folks will be gathering at the court house to honor the lives lost in Orlando, and to be with each other as a community for those who need support.

Around 50 people gathered, met their neighbors, hugged, cried, and sat in a circle to share our burdens, fears, anger, sadness, and solidarity with each other. While many folks present identified as LGBT, or had children that are part of the LGBT community, there were a fair number of allies there as well. It was an open place where people felt comfortable sharing their hopes and fears:

“I’ve never been more terrified to be LGBT. I thought my fight was over when I came out. I guess not.”

“I feel lost right now. I woke up today not knowing if my friends in Florida were alive.”

“This is a reason to be afriad, but, it’s also a reason to be brave.”

“Here, today, we are in the arms of our community.”

“I’m mad. Really mad. Here we are, fighting for our lives. AGAIN.”

“Where are our community leaders at this gathering? Our mayor, our legislators? Don’t they care about us?”

“In times of grief, we should do just what we’re doing here – come together as a community.”

“Am I supposed to be more out now? More vocal? Or, should I go hide?”

“Today has solidified all of my fears for my LGBT daughter.”

Haji and a couple other people from the Muslim community were at the gathering and, to me and many others, this spoke volumes about the health of our fair city as well as our ability to come together across religious lines.

“I’m a Muslim, and I am with you – my religion has never taught me to hate. I’m shocked. I’m angry. These were innocent people. The Muslim community is with you all. We should judge this shooter on his own merit – he did this to all of us. My religion has never taught me to hate.” – Haji

While this tragedy brought us together as a community, #unitecloud longs for the day when community comes together just for the sake of community. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for us to really see our LGBT neighbors – to listen to them and discover how their personal story is one of highs and lows, joy and pain. Our neighbors should matter to us. There should not be any qualifiers for deciding who does and doesn’t matter in Central MN and whose voices are heard, loud and clear, while other voices are squashed, marginalized, and brought out only at times of tragedy. Every voice matters every day.

“This morning, I felt lost.

Tonight, I’ve found a way forward with my community.

Not only did we get a chance to grieve, to talk openly about the struggles of the queer community in Central Minnesota and listen to each others stories – after the event, a group of young activists sat and talked about how to organize around those struggles in a community that often feels divided.

There’s still pain, there’s still a lot of work to do… but the overwhelming consensus of tonight was knowing that we don’t have to carry it all alone.” – Justin

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About the Author

Natalie Ringsmuth

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Natalie grew up in Central Minnesota and received her Music Education degree from Concordia College in Moorhead. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. She now works as a legal assistant at Tripiciano Immigration Law, a trainer with the CARE (Community Anti-Racism Education) Team at SCSU (St Cloud State University), and as Founder and Director of #unitecloud, a non-profit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in Central MN. She is a member of the Community Impact Team at United Way of Central MN and is a member of the St Cloud District 742 school board. In her spare time (haha) she loves to spend time with her husband and 3 children.