Orlando, Vanderbilt, Grief, Outrage & Change

It’s barely Tuesday afternoon and it’s already been a hell of a week.

As many (all?) of you know in the small hours of Sunday morning a man walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. Armed with guns with ridiculous power, designed only to kill and maim, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, he began shooting. He took aim at some of the most vulnerable members of our society, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and intersex (LGBTQQAI) family and friends.

Forty-nine people who had gone out to have a good time, to dance, and laugh, and celebrate with their friends lost their lives. (Many media reports list fatalities at 50, but that number includes the shooter.) Incredible numbers of people were injured: physically in the shooting; emotionally by being one of the police officers or paramedics or fire fighters who responded to the tragedy to tend the wounded;  by learning of their loved one’s deaths; and by being a part of the LGBTQQAI community, in Orlando, and around the world, reminded of their connection, and their vulnerability.

The number of vigils has been amazing, and the hands that have reached out to help, and the voices that have spoken up about love has been helpful to tired, and weary hearts. I am most moved by scenes of Muslims, who are in the midst of their Ramadan fast, and who are sadly called upon once again to defend their faith, lining up to donate blood, and offer water and food to others waiting to do so. And I am grateful for the voice of churches like mine, the United Church of Christ, and their witness of love, justice, and inclusion of all God’s children.

But even amid that, there’s been a lot of awfulness – media outlets attempting to ignore that the victims were LGBTQQAI, hypocrites who in recent weeks had been spewing hate and bigotry now praying for the very communities they were condemning, politicians turning these deaths into talking points for their own agendas, and folks who just can’t seem to understand the scope of gun violence in our country. A lot of my friends are hurting, grieving the loss of what had been safe places, and mourning for people they never met, but with whom they shared their lives. This is probably already too many words from me on the subject, so I stand with them, and listen, awaiting their instructions and ideas about how I can be of help.

Meanwhile, my own community of survivors of rape and sexual violence are reeling.

Stanford has slipped off the radar for most people, gone to wherever viral internet things go when they aren’t viral anymore, but I promise you survivors are paying attention, still reading the articles now moved to page six, listening in the silence for a commitment to change.

And then there’s Vanderbilt University, back in the news with a case from 2013 that caused considerable public outcry, but has since been largely forgotten.

In June of 2013, four members of the Vanderbilt football team – Corey Batey, Brandon Banks, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, and Brandon Vandenburg – took a woman back to the dorms after a party. There they proceeded to rape her, and videotape the rape, distributing it across various social networks.

Mr Batey and Mr Vandenburg were convicted in January of 2015, but then because of some issues with a juror, a mistrial was declared. Mr Batey was retried and convicted in April of this year and is awaiting sentencing this summer. (Mr Banks and Mr McKenzie are still awaiting trial, and Mr McKenzie is expected to be the prosecution’s lead witness in the trial against Mr Vandeburg.)

Mr Vandenburg is on trial again now. After a difficult process of empaneling an out of town jury which will be sequestered in Nashville during the trial, the trial began on Monday of this week. The defense’s argument on why Mr Vandenburg should not be convicted might sound a bit familiar:

He was a good kid with a promising future who got in over his head, his family was 2000 miles away in California, he looked to the other players as his brothers, his role models, and in the words of his attorney, “he didn’t know that that’s the way these guys did things at Vanderbilt.”

My community – survivors of rape, abuse, and sexual violence – are grieving. And every day 808 more people join us (there is an average of one rape or sexual assault in the U.S. every 107 seconds). Every now and again there’s a vigil, when a big case like Stanford or Vanderbilt break. Sure, there are vigils, and walks, and such in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but not for the almost 34 people an hour, each and every day, who are violently, and intimately violated in this country (much less the 1 in 2 women around the world who will be raped, abused, or assaulted in their lifetime).

I don’t mean this to turn in to a competition, some sort of grief and oppression olympics of who is more or less deserving of a rally or a vigil, and if I have offended I do hope you’ll comment here with compassion rather than vitriol.

Rather I would hope that this might be a moment for us to understand just how interconnected all these forms of oppression, and discrimination, and bigotry are. The social structures that led to the violence in Orlando, are connected to those that see our young black (and brown and native American) men killed by those who should protect them, and those are connected to the religious bigotry that condemn all Muslims for the actions of one, and those are connected to rape culture which teaches men like Mr Vandenburg that they have a right to use a woman for whatever they want without consequence.

Heterosexism, racism, Islamaphobia, gun culture, and sexism – they’re all tied up together. To solve these problems, to create a better tomorrow, we’re going to have to work together, to recognize the particularities of our own struggles, and the places where those struggles connect with others. It’s going to be hard, and messy, and painful. It’s going to scare us, and shake us to the depths of who we think we are, but it’s all we’ve got. There is no them, there is only us, one people who all desperately deserve to be free to live, and love, and dance, and run, and celebrate, and walk their dogs after dark, and be themselves – at home, at work, at the night club, at church, at the grocery store, everywhere.

I could keep writing, there are so many words, and emotions swirling in my head, a jumble of sad and angry, confused and scared. Instead I’ll leave you with some words about how we might translate our internet outrage and grief (which is wonderful and important) into something more. Kia Groom writes, in an article called “Want To Show Your Solidarity With Victims? Then Actually Take Action”:

Stop waiting until the story breaks. Stop waiting until you feel safe to stand up. Expressing solidarity is not supposed to be easy. It is challenging. It is terrifying. It calls upon us to make difficult decisions, to risk our alliances, our careers, our reputations—perhaps even our bodies—on behalf of others. Not because we have something to gain, but because it is the right thing to do. … The actions you take in your day to day lives matter. Whether you speak up or stay silent. Whether you step in. Whether you take a stand. Don’t wait for a body count. You can make a difference—even if you don’t make the headlines.

For the rest of the article, click here.

My hope and prayer friends, is that the tragedy, the grief, the heartache of this week might move and change us, might bring us together, might unite us to strive together for a more perfect world.

For more information about the Vanderbilt case, click here, and look for the link at the bottom of that page to follow updates.

 

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