A response to the tragic mass shooting that took place on June 12, 2016, at a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, Florida resulting in 49 deaths and 53 injuries.
Like most Americans my age, I grew up on Disney movies. One of my happiest childhood memories is of the family trip to Orlando, Florida to meet Mickey Mouse, sing “It’s a Small World,” and run around the Magic Kingdom. As kids, we all rooted for the poor Arab boy to find love and move into the castle. We smiled when the abused child revealed her glass slipper and escaped her oppressors. We laughed together when Robin Hood eluded the corrupt rulers and went off dancing and singing in Sherwood Forest with his best friend. We all watched poor, marginalized outcasts suffer and we all cheered when they found love and happiness.
When I grew up a bit, I realized the Disney stories I’d watched with glee as a kid didn’t accurately reflect adult reality. I mean, come on, I know Pocahontas and her tribe didn’t compromise peacefully with the British settlers and go on to live happily ever after. But even after I’d wised up a bit, I still believed that the stories demonstrated certain ideals that we as Americans all wanted to make a reality.
After all, when I was a child I heard other stories about “founding fathers” that were poor, marginalized outcasts who stubbornly refused to accept tyranny. They said “ALL.. are created equal” and ALL are “endowed with certain unalienable rights” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Was that just an idealistic story too? Was it a story written only by and for privileged, white, heterosexual, Christians? Did I miss the fine print?
Year after year, we write the American story. As it unfolds, I can’t help but notice the violent contradictions between the idealistic dreams of freedom and tolerance and our horrific daily realities of persecution and hate. Orlando was a symbolic American icon of innocence, love, and joy. Now, it is yet another grim reminder that in America, we value the right to bear arms (specifically, military assault weapons capable of firing 45 rounds per minute) more than we value the safety, freedom, or lives of our fellow citizens.
What will future generations of Americans learn from our story? Would the founding fathers be proud of us for abiding by their words? Will our children be proud of us when they grow up? Or will they be shot in a classroom before they get the chance?