I want to tell you a short story about the small town of Ripon, WI. On May 19, the local newspaper, The Ripon Commonwealth, which has served as the town’s paper since 1864, published a story regarding the political right’s uproar concerning President Barack Obama’s executive order that all public schools must allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom which matches that of their gender identity. Angry and upset, the paper’s education reporter wrote an article expressing his clear disdain for the President and also expressing a clear lack of empathy, understanding and sheer bigotry towards the transgender community.
Growing up in Ripon, I always read the paper when it came out on Wednesday evenings. Those of you who grew up in a small town can attest to the luxury of seeing friends, family members, and even the smallest ongoings in one’s town in print for the entire town to see and talk about. However, one thing I never saw in the paper was the clear hate I read in Mr. Becker’s article (the author of said piece). Enraged, I immediately asked myself: what can I do? Having connections back in Wisconsin, I immediately turned to friends who owned businesses, a friend who is the Director of a vocal and important group in the town, and community organizations and friends to begin to write letters.
After the threat of a boycott of the paper by local businesses, both LGBT and not, which could become very real and financially damaging for a local paper which relies heavily on ad revenue, the publisher of the paper, whom I’ve always respected, met with a local business owner and friend of mine. During this meeting, they had an educational and empowering conversation regarding the multitude of issues and life threatening challenges that transgender individuals face (as well as gay, bisexual, lesbian, and queer people), and the publisher of the paper agreed that the article was wrong and that there would be an in-person interview with my friend about the importance of education regarding transgender issues. The follow-up article was published a few weeks later in the paper. Needless to say, it was wonderful to see not only the submissions from local townspeople to the “Letters to the Editor” section calling the original article what it was – bigotry – but more importantly, the empowering responses from the local community that proved Ripon would not let this type of hatred and intolerance go unanswered.
We had won! It was a small victory, but the ability to have a full-spread article talking about the importance of not only transgender rights, but also LGBQIA rights, was a significant step for those who are still in the proverbial closet as well as for those that are out and proud.
Then, Orlando happened…
I’ve been thinking about the story regarding the anti-transgender piece in my local newspaper a lot since Saturday when at least 50 people were killed and another 53 individuals were critically injured after a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a local gay club in Orlando, FL. I’ve tried to cry, I’ve tried to get mad, I’ve tried to pray, I’ve tried to mourn the fact that we lost so many people on Saturday because of one individual’s hatred both of himself and those that he could not bring himself to understand or accept.
While out walking, I asked myself: I wonder how this level of hate was created in him that made him believe that he was right to hate the people who were dancing in Pulse on Saturday night? Was it a religious text? Was it something online? Or, was it an article in a paper that made him feel correct and righteous in his discontent for the LGBT community that he felt justified taking an AR-15 into a club and leaving a wake of destruction in his path? That’s how hate begins: with people seeing hate in the world and thinking it’s ok to hate people that are not like them, or, having one’s hate validated by the pundits, letters to the editor, political and religious demagogues, and other figures that symbolize the acceptance of hate.
If you do anything in the wake of Orlando, make sure that every time you smile, every time you laugh, and every time you cry, you remember the names of those we lost. Remember their ages, their stories, and their smiles. Remember the loss, because we’re going to need it for the tomorrows to come and for those that need our protection the most: the next generation.
Remember, we are Orlando; now, tomorrow, and always.
Dedicated to: Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old; Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old; Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old; Kimberly Morris, 37 years old; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old; Amanda Alvear, 25 years old; Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old; Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old; Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old; Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old; Cory James Connell, 21 years old; Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old; Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old; Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old; Frank Hernandez, 27 years old.
John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds an MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation. He is currently the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association, the Vice- Chair of Public Relation and Social Media for the Stonewall Democratic Club, and the Non-Profit and Governmental Liaison for the Hollywood Chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women). When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. Additionally, he serves as the President of the City’s employee union, Local 3339, which is part of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter@JErickson85
18 thoughts on “Remember by John Erickson”
Thanks for reminding us that our actions can make a difference in a time when it is easy to say that nothing we do can make a difference.
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Thank you, Carol! We can and will change the world, together!
Thanks John, for taking on the Orlando tragedy as your contribution at FAR today. We need your perspective and input in so many ways. And thanks for each and every name and their age, that’s so important.
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old, is a name that seems out of place in that group — but she apparently protected her 21-year-old son from the attack. She shielded him and took the bullets herself, and was killed, so that her son could survive. Maybe we think of guns as powerful, but love can be incredibly powerful too.
It was the act of love that she did to protect her 21-year-old son. All of these individuals were taken from us far too soon; I wonder what beauty they would have created in the world if they were not struck down by hate? Thank you for your comment!
Thanks for sharing your story during this painful week. I’m glad people in Ripon came together to stand up for the LGBTQ community. I think it’s so important that people don’t let these expressions of hatred go unchecked, whether in the media or in everyday conversations. The normalisation and tolerance of bigotry is what makes acts of outright violence like this a little bit more likely to happen. Solidarity!
I’m glad too! As long as I live, I won’t let bigotry stand in my hometown, even if I live 2,000 miles away. We’re strong together and we showed that in this incident and will show that in the future if it comes up again.
Someone who lives in my apartment building refused to communicate with me, saying she never talked to people “like me.” I am a mystic, but she was thinking I guess about something to do with my orientation, I tried to pet her dog, once, while it was sniffing my leg on the elevator, and she told me she wouldn’t allow me even to touch her dog. I saw her on the elevator yesterday and she looked down immediately, seemingly embarrassed by her own behavior. That metanoia, if it is one, may come from the sad deaths of all those innocent gay people in Florida. So I wonder how many homophobic citizens who used to hate gay people, for no good reason at all, have been reconsidering the unkindness of that behavior?
Thank you for this post, John. The words mourn and remember share a root. Thank you for calling us to remember.
Thank you for reminding us that hatred is the root of this tragedy and so many other tragedies. Many religions have texts that can be used to justify hatred. As can a newspaper article, as you point out, or vicious tweets by prominent leaders who want to whip up hatred towards Muslims.
May hearts and eyes and minds be opened. May compassion prevail.
In discussing this post with my dissertation adviser he said: “hate and intolerance stems from a thousand little, seemingly innocuous things like small-town newspaper editorials. But if you get enough paper cuts, you bleed to death.”
That comment has stuck with me! I know there is an LGBTQ community in Ripon and I want them, those in the closet and not, to be able to come out and be proud, like I am, of where they came from. We don’t have a gay bar in Ripon but we have bars where we meet, join in community, and feel together as one!
Last night (June 14), I heard on my local news, which has a reporter in Orlando, that the shooter was well known at the Pulse. He used to go there, whether to socialize or to “case the joint,” I have no idea. A man who was wounded also told the reporter that the shooter shot the dead people again to make sure they were dead. But of course we have gun violence nearly every day, and the shooters are almost always men. Is there a connection to be made here with the subject of Kavita’s post yesterday?
I believe that every gun and every bullet on the planet should be melted down and the metal used to make statues of writers, artists, and composers. If men still want to make war or prove their dominance in other ways, let them throw rocks. Without trebuchets! Better yet, let them listen to our Mother, who says we are all Her children. “Children,” She will say, “play nice. Don’t fight. Be kind to each other.”
I’ll start heating up the cauldron for melting them all down; I do want to come for these people’s gun; I’m sick of the violence that makes these white men feel strong and big because they have the ability to kill! That doesn’t make you strong, that makes you weak!
Thank you for listing the names of the victims and their ages.
There is much sadness now for Orlando, but please still take pride in your efforts with your hometown newspaper. Bringing people together to communicate freely and learn from one another is important spiritual work which will grow deep roots of compassion.
I am sad for the victims’ families and sad for my country. How much freedom do I have in a school, a movie theater, a nightclub or a mall when I or my loved ones could be gunned down by some maniac at any moment?
Doing nothing is also a decision.
I love your statement that: “doing nothing is also a decision.”
We must not sit anymore; we must rise up and call for reform, now! This isn’t just about LGBTQ lives, this is also about the countless number of black lives that have been gunned down both today, in the past, and will be in the future by police violence and brutality caused by the deep racist roots this country was founded on.
Such a wonderful story, John. Organizing on the side of love instead of the side of hate! Yay!
It’s how we will overcome!
Thank you for this inspiring and important post. I think that stories like yours, of people coming together for understanding, love, and inclusiveness, happen in small towns all the time, but rarely do people outside of the town hear of them. I live in one small town and work in another, and such stories happen all the time, and each time they do, I find myself feeling hope for our future.
It’s why local elections and small town politics matter; we need to keep progressive issues front and center and respect and equality as well so that way we have change on the local front regardless of the size of your town!
Thank you for this touching and inspirational post, John. Let there be no hate in the world and in our hearts.