It's been three days since the attack. It's been three days of sadness, three days of waiting for new information and three days of feeling like something has changed. But around us, the world is carrying on as usual, as though nothing has happened. The news cycle has moved on, as though Sunday was just another shooting in the trigger-happy US. But it's not, is it? It's so much more than that.
I feel like I need to spell it out to people. After 9/11, President George W. Bush said that those atrocities were "an attack on the American people. They are an attack on our way of life." This attack is exactly the same for the LGBT Community. This was an act of terror directed against us. Though its motives are not yet clear, whether it was IS-motivated or otherwise, LGBT people were the intended targets of terror and hate. What is unclear about that? A man wanted to send a blood-stained message to the LGBT people and we have been forced to hear it. And now we have no choice but to stand up against it.
Vigils took place in cities all across the world. LGBT Communities showed their solidarity with each other by standing together in memory of the victims. Candles were lit, hands were joined and tears were shed as we stood as a whole people, spread across the globe. Banners daubed with messages of defiance and support were held proudly aloft. A list of names was read around the world and for that one moment, we all became that little bit closer together. I didn't know any of the victims, but people I know did. It's said that everyone in the world is only six degrees of separation from each other, but in the LGBT Community I believe it can only be two or three. We're a people who flock together, and for that reason, these victims lost their lives. They wanted to be together. And someone saw this cohesion as opportunity for mass-murder. And people wonder why we're still banging on about homophobia.
Three years ago, my cousin was caught in the siege at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. Miraculously, he escaped the massacre unscathed, but he is still carrying the trauma he suffered today. For the survivors of an attack, the physical and emotional scars will be carried for the rest of their lives and for those who were present in Pulse on Sunday, there will be shock, grief and guilt. But what can we do to help them?
The lines of people waiting to donate blood on Sunday showed a sickening irony about still existent institutionalised homophobia. The city temporarily lifted its ban on gay men donating blood, a long-contested ban that remains from the AIDS crisis, but yet it still remains elsewhere. And in Washington, US senators ratified a bill that still maintains some LGBT inequality just two days after the attack. And people wonder why we're still banging on about homophobia.
Essentially, this attack was the most extreme manifestation of homophobia that is still evident every day. The rights of the LGBT Community may be protected by law in the UK, but that does not protect us from a public that haven't all caught up. Though great progress has been made, I still have to be careful if I want to hold a boy's hand, or kiss him in public. I still need to check where I am and see who might be watching. Until that need is no longer there, we cannot truly say that we have achieved equality. And Sunday was a stark reminder that we are further away from it than we thought. But we owe it to the victims of Sunday to fight it until its very last root is destroyed. Because just one root could spring up and surprise us, just as Omar Matten did. And yet, people still wonder why we're still banging on about homophobia.
Orlando, we will never forget what happened on Sunday and we stand firm and tall for you now. This was not just another shooting. This is a turning point. This is where it stops.