Finding Our Pulse: Words matter, actions matter more

By : Teresa Jacobs
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Until June 12, 2016, although I knew of Pulse, I had not realized its significance within our community, the sense of home and family that it provided for so many in the LGBTQ community, or how it served as an anchor for others – especially our LGBTQ young people.

Pulse – a place of love and acceptance, where once our LGBTQ brothers and sisters gathered with laughter and joy. Pulse – a place named to honor the enduring spirit of one woman’s beloved brother, and Pulse – a place that was to become an instant shrine for 49 innocent victims who will forever live within our hearts. But in the early morning hours of June 12, I knew none of that. I knew only the shattering pain and the surreal disbelief we all felt. I knew from the start – literally on that morning – that this was a hate crime, occurring during Pride Month and aimed squarely at the LGBTQ community, as well as the Latinx and Hispanic communities. And above all, I knew that people would need help.

I immediately joined the governor in declaring a state of emergency that allowed for expedited access to public safety resources, and deployed every Orange County emergency response capability we had to assist with Pulse.

Just as quickly we focused on caring for each other, and with genuine unity – and as the world watched in awe – the Central Florida community came together. With stunning speed, volunteers overwhelmed the Pulse responders. From donating blood to providing comfort, everyone wanted to help. Without pause, faith leaders of all denominations gathered to pray and mourn, from vigils in their houses of worship to their presence at an Orange County interfaith gathering and offering solace to individual families and survivors. Just as astonishing was the outpouring of tribute items, as mourners spontaneously transformed spaces at Pulse, Orlando Health, the Dr. Phillips Center Seneff Lawn, Lake Eola and beyond with heartfelt memorial items.

From the 49 crosses to an American flag embroidered with 49 names, there was no distinction between color, creed, gender identity or age. As a community we mourned in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, with our Latinx and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and with people of all colors and faiths. No barriers to separate us – only the bond of humanity that united us all.

By the end of that very long week we gathered at Lake Eola for a rally that will forever live in Central Florida history as the moment in time when we showed the world what it means to love unconditionally. When we declared that “enough is enough is enough,” and that no more would we tolerate judgment or discrimination.

As we prepare to mark one year since the Pulse attack, I am buoyed by that unity – particularly when remembering days past.

On June 12, 2017, we will remember the victims, embrace the families, and comfort the survivors. Through our actions and by publicly memorializing the catastrophic loss suffered by all those who loved the 49 innocent victims, as well as the broader LGBTQ, Latinx, Hispanic and Central Florida communities, we demonstrate how times have changed, how we have changed, and how we have grown as a community.

When we again fly the historic Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag at the Orange County Administration Building, I will remember that one year ago, when I decided to fly Section 93 of “The Sacred Cloth” – hand-sewn by the late, beloved Gilbert Baker – I fully expected some level of public outcry. In fact, just the opposite occurred. But for one citizen critic, the county stood in full support of this extremely public display of solidarity with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

In utter honesty, when I look back, even 10 years ago I would never have imagined that we would fly a rainbow flag from the County Administration Building.

But it’s in looking back that I feel such profound hope for the future – hope that we will forever mark the summer of 2016 as a turning point, our ground zero, in accepting and embracing the beautiful diversity of this special community we call home.

I’ve done a fair share of reflecting on my past. My upbringing and the cultural and religious guideposts that formed my belief system. And here’s my takeaway: Our words matter and our actions matter even more. We are each responsible for setting an example for future generations, and on a daily basis, for carrying forward the message of love and acceptance of all people.

Nothing can ever erase the harm of the Pulse massacre. Yet, as dark and devastating as June 12 was, my spirit continues to be lifted and inspired by the strength, the unity, the compassion and the love that poured forth from all parts of our community in the wake of this nightmare. Forever in my heart I will remember the 49 lost souls, and every year I will observe June 12 as Orlando United Day – an annual commemoration of unity with our LGBTQ, Latinx and Hispanic communities, as well as a reminder of our broader purpose on this earth and our mission as a community united in love and support.

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