Homo Erectus: The Evolution of Us – Hope (and Thoughts and Prayers) for Our Gun-Totin’ Future

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Steve Yacovelli

The Parkland shooting has yet again re-ignited the great American gun control debate. Both sides of the coin have brought out their best arguments for control/freedom. It’s sadly yet another repeat of the same ol’ “thoughts and prayers” responses we have heard time and time again: from Sandy Hook to Virgina Tech to Las Vegas to our own Pulse massacre. Yet this time something feels a bit different; it feels like a tipping point of sorts.

While there was ample focus after Pulse within our community and beyond to look at common sense gun control, sadly we were constantly met with that “thoughts and prayers” shenanigans from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Some – like Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Florida State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith – passionately reached out to lawmakers to change things. Groups like the Orlando chapter of Gays Against Guns and The Dru Project formed and shouted for gun reform. But nothing seemed to change. Some thought that, gee, if Washington wasn’t moved into action when kindergarteners were gunned down in their own classroom at Sandy Hook, maybe nothing could really turn the dial.

But, as many of us know, February 14, 2018, was the day that a shooter entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and killed 17 people. Students and teachers lost their lives that day to yet another senseless gun incident. Politicians again sent their daggum “thoughts and prayers” to the victim’s families and the greater South Florida community. But amid the mourning of their classmates and teachers, climbing through the daze of yet another senseless gun shooting, and the attendance of far too many funerals, many of the survivors of the massacre launched the #NeverAgain movement to push for gun-law reform.

They dominated the media with their message of reform. They held their own against spokespeople for the NRA and lawmakers in the NRA’s pocket like Senator Marco Rubio. They took to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to hold leaders accountable for their continued inaction. Students like Emma Gonzalez, the amazingly eloquent Stoneman Douglas senior, shared how “this time” is different at a rally after the shooting (and the subsequent video shared widely on social media): “Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together, because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”

These students mean business. It’s not a “if there’s change” from their perspective but a “when.” They are tired of the so-called adults doing nothing but send those T&Ps through the Twitterverse after yet another senseless violent act occurs. They are leveraging their social media savviness, their self-confidence, and channeling their passion (and perhaps grief) to make lasting change. They are the voice of those who lost theirs on Valentine’s Day this year.

Earlier this year I attended the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change” conference. I had the pleasure of running a booth for my newest venture, LGBTInclusivity.com, a consulting firm focused on LGBTQ equality in the workplace though both formal and informal learning. We were there with two goals: One, to let folks know we had just “come out” as a new resource; and two, to start to build a bench of consultants we could leverage as work starts to grow. We met dozens and dozens of amazing LGBTQ advocates; from parents supporting PFLAG to trans advocates to professional diversity folks like us. But the ones who continued to stand out for us were the younger people at this conference. We met so many confident and articulate high school students (both gay and straight) who were there to absorb what they could to be better advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ community. They stopped by our booth, took some free swag and shared who they were and what they do. We were continually impressed with how they articulated their passion for equality and fairness, to make the world better for LGBTQ people of all types, and to hold leaders and lawmakers accountable for their actions if they disenfranchised members of our community.

In hindsight, these awesome LGBTQ young people reminded me so much of the eloquent and passionate Stoneman Douglas students leading the conversation for common sense gun reform. Both sets of students are self-confident, passionate for change, and want those in charge to be held accountable for their actions or inactions. They want to leave the world better than they found it, whether it’s common sense gun reform or preserving and advancing the rights of LGBTQ people.

I see these kids from Parkland and meet the LGBTQ youth at a conference and I am incredibly impressed with their passion and poise and energy and voice. They are our future, this is their future and they won’t get handed a bag of doodie from the current leadership lying down. They will reform gun laws in the U.S. They will improve the rights and equality of LGBTQ people. I have to say that – for the first time since late 2016 – I have hope that things will change for the better. I hope that we all learn from the passion, focus, energy, and optimism for these young leaders.

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