By James Tigger! Ferguson
Five years ago, an unspeakable massacre occurred at Pulse nightclub. We live in a country that worships guns—the power, the money, the violence and the hatred that guns represent. So it certainly wasn’t the first massacre, nor would it be the last. And though it was the deadliest shooting in this country at the time, even that didn’t last long. Each of these senseless attacks is a devastating tragedy, but this one felt personal. This was one toxic, bigoted bastard’s attempt at queer extermination in our sacred sanctuary, a gay bar. This was an attack on all of us.
When you grow up queer, you tend to grow up with a part of you just waiting for something horribly violent to happen. And all too often it does happen to so many of us. But most of us who’ve been bashed survive it. My stitches healed. But those 49 Human Beings are gone forever. No one who loved them and no one who was at Pulse that night will ever fully heal. And it happened in a gay bar, the one place where many of us first felt safe, where we finally felt at home.
I knew I had to do something more than sign petitions. My husband Scott and I recognized that there had been so much gun violence in this country that most people had become numb to the numbers. All those staggering statistics didn’t feel real anymore. We agreed that people needed to experience what the absence of 49 people looks like. They needed to see one human being standing in for each human being who was murdered. So we decided that we needed to gather 49 of us to all dress in white. (No more black because there were already too many funerals.) We would be silent because it’s not about us, and we would be veiled to mourn our dead. Instead of showing our own faces, each of us would carry a sign with the face, name, and age of each of those 49 victims. We wanted to be silent witnesses at Pride, to honor the 49 Human Beings who were robbed of their chances to ever celebrate Pride again.
Fortunately, we heard about a new activist group that was also moved to action by the Pulse tragedy, and they were about to have their first meeting.
Gays Against Guns was and is the perfect home for our Human Beings. They brought the Rage, so we could focus on the Grief.
The overwhelming impact we felt that day, each of us cocooned behind our veils, is impossible to describe.
And yet…five years later, here we are. Obviously, that effort wasn’t enough. Not yet.
I’m deeply grateful that Gays Against Guns keeps on fighting and that they keep our vision of a living memorial alive, to honor the ever-increasing number of human beings who die from gun violence. But I’m also enraged that the NRA hasn’t died instead of all those people. And I’m enraged that it’s so goddamn easy for racists, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, religious bigots, and other haters to murder in minutes. Enraged that it’s so much easier to get an assault rifle than decent mental healthcare.
If you share our grief and feel our rage, please make it productive. Honor the dead with action and fight for change. Otherwise, this nightmare will continue to play out for people of every color, gender, sexuality, and age, in every city. We could all be next.
James Tigger! Ferguson is an actor, burlesque artist, and activist who created the Human Beings as a living memorial to victims of gun violence.