Patrick Scarborough was born and raised in Dothan.
First Alabama citizen to serve on national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign
Orlando is your town, too
Dothan Eagle – Guest Column:
We all have heard the story by now: 49 innocent souls taken in an assault on Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It seems surreal to imagine, and it may feel removed from our daily lives, even as further details of the events that transpired continue to flood the news. Yet, for some of us, this heinous attack hits closer to home than many could imagine.
To many of us in the LGBTQ community, places like Pulse serve as our escape from the gaze of a public that may not accept us. Just this week, President Obama referred to clubs and bars that serve the LGBTQ community as “sanctuaries” where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals can let their guard down and relax and have fun with their friends and loved ones away from a world that may not be as friendly.
Growing up in Dothan, I would often seek out a pool nearby to escape the blazing summer heat – it would be the only place where I would feel comfortable. The feeling of lowering myself into cool water to escape the sun is similar to the feeling an LGBTQ person feels when walking through the doors of a place like Pulse. It’s instantaneous relief, away from the direct heat of the outside world.
Whether it is Pulse or any other affirming place, it truly is a sanctuary. There, we are the norm, and we are free to be exactly as we are with no need to avoid or manage the impressions others have of us. That is why for me, and countless others like me, this event is so disturbing. It feels as if 49 of my friends were murdered in the pool I escaped to each summer.
My heart breaks at the horror of the event itself and the reasons it happened. This attack was fueled by the same hatred that killed Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming; that killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill; that killed nine men and women in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. It’s the same hatred that has stolen the lives of far too many Americans far too soon.
Unfortunately, the hatred that drove this gunman to Pulse is all too common in the United States. In fact, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the most recent FBI statistics available. And that could be a low number – hate crimes reporting is not mandatory and routinely undercounts LGBTQ data. A recent investigation by the Associated Press found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country had not reported a single hate crime to the FBI for the past six years, representing about 17 percent of these law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Hate isn’t inbred; it is learned. The person who committed this despicable act was somehow conditioned to believe that LGBTQ people deserve to be massacred. The shooter was born and raised right here in the United States, and very likely heard dangerous messages from politicians and radical anti-LGBTQ extremists on a regular basis. While some politicians are quick to point to a foreign foe when acts of terrorism threaten Americans, it is clear that the rhetoric of hate groups and the politicians who listen to them can plant itself in the minds of impressionable, mentally ill individuals. Every time we see legislation that puts a target on the back of LGBTQ people and every time a preacher calls us sinners from the pulpit, we are sending a signal that LGBTQ people should be treated differently – and worse.
My Dothan roots instilled in me an appreciation for hard work and sacrifice, and it is these qualities that led me to become the first Alabama citizen to serve on the board of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that fights for the rights of the LGBTQ community around the country and around the world. Now, I am recommitting myself to fight for equality in every corner of our state. The lives taken in Orlando cannot be in vain – we must stand up to discrimination when we see it, and work toward a society that does not empower a culture of hatred and violence. It is time give LGBTQ citizens of our state equal dignity and respect in all aspects of life. We cannot afford another attack on our brothers and sisters.
In all likelihood, each and every one of you reading this know a gay person. They would love to know you accept them for who they are. Tell them, and then join me in fighting for them.
Patrick Scarborough was born and raised in Dothan. He serves on the national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign. He can be reached at email@example.com
The original article can be found here