(Donate to Phil's GoFundMe account to raise money for OneOrlando and the victims of the Pulse shooting.)
When I woke up on June 12 and heard the news about the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I was devastated. Forty-nine lives gone in an instant. Dozens more injured. Countless lives affected.
The attack on Pulse was a direct assault on the LGBT community and the progress it has made over the years. It attempted to dismantle and strip away the equality that LGBT individuals and allies have worked tirelessly to earn. To me, the Orlando shooting was personal. I felt unsafe. I felt attacked. I felt that a piece of me — of my identity — was directly under threat. Not only that, but it could have happened anywhere, to anyone. What happened was unimaginable — almost surreal — but it inspired me to take action.
On Sept. 25, I will do my small part to help those affected by the Pulse shooting. I am taking the lessons I learned from the LGBT community — from these individuals — and doing what I can to honor their lives and further the equality they earned for the LGBT community, for society, and for me.
Growing up, I learned to associate being gay with shame and inferiority — my sexuality was to be hidden, suppressed, and forgotten. As I grew up and was forced to confront it, I found myself unable to manage the battle between what I felt and my commitment to hide my secret. Through running, I found the strength and resilience necessary to cope with my sexuality and conquer my depression. Through others' stories, I gained the courage to share my own. Without these examples — I would never have had the courage to come out. I would never have been able to be true to myself.
The term I've come to value the most is unapologetic acceptance. It is the phrase, the theme, and the idea that best encapsulates the year-and-a-half since I came out, and it is the motto by which I live my life. It motivated me to confront my sexuality. It empowered me to start running. It inspired me to share my story, run the Philadelphia Marathon, and raise money for The Trevor Project. Unapologetic acceptance taught me to embrace every aspect of myself — bravely and unconditionally.
After sharing my story, I was fortunate enough to hear about others' experiences with battling depression, coming to terms with their sexuality, and the means by which they found their own acceptance. From these people, I learned how important acceptance was to fully reconciling who I am with who I want to be. Without fully embracing who I am, I could never become a person that I was truly happy with. By submitting to the pressure to hide my sexuality, I was not fully myself — I was conforming to others' expectations in an attempt to avoid conflict.
The Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub drew on fear and hatred as a means to quiet those who also committed to live their lives with unapologetic acceptance. These individuals embraced every aspect of themselves fully and did not succumb to stigma and stereotypes. Pulse provided them with a safe space to be who they are and, just by living the way they did, they pushed for progress and acceptance for LGBT individuals nationwide. Pulse was, and still is, an emblem for LGBT equality.
It's incredibly important for these individuals to have lived the way they did — they provided an example and paved the way for the LGBT community. By living with an unapologetic acceptance of themselves, they constantly pushed for social change and cultural acceptance. By not yielding to others' discomfort and disagreement, they created new norms and provided an example for those struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. These individuals, as members and allies of the LGBT community, did not let stigma hold them back from being who they are. The Orlando shooting served as an attack on this bravery and progress. It attempted to force the LGBT community into submission — to strip LGBT individuals of their bravery and self-actualization.
In the wake of the tragedy, the resilience of the LGBT community and support of its allies has shone through. OneOrlando is an organization committed to rebuilding the spirit of the Orlando community and helping the victims and their families cope with the tragedy. OneOrlando aims to leave the community more resilient and stronger than before. It hopes to honor the victims of the shooting by embodying what made makes the victims so special — their unyielding and unapologetic bravery. This organization hopes to show the world and those who disagree with the LGBT community that tragedy doesn't set it back — it makes it stronger, more passionate, and even more dedicated. OneOrlando makes urgent the issues facing the LGBT community, and demands that we take action.
On Sept. 25, I am competing in the Chattanooga Ironman triathlon and raising money for OneOrlando. The Chattanooga Ironman continues not only my personal journey, but also the LGBT community's journey towards equality and acceptance. In working with OneOrlando, I am furthering my commitment to embrace every aspect of myself and to break down stigmas surrounding the LGBT community, just as the victims of the shooting did in living fully and unapologetically as themselves.
Although small, competing in the Ironman is my way of honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting. The example set forth by these individuals allowed me to live my life with unapologetic acceptance, and I hope to carry their memory with me on Sept. 25.
Even after the triathlon, I will continue to live my life and embrace my identity to the fullest. I will continue the push for equality. I will continue to fight for a world in which stigma doesn't exist — where LGBT individuals aren't afraid to be who they are. The victims of the Pulse shooting — and others like them — provided this confidence for me. They helped me to not be afraid. They inspired me to be resilient and embrace myself unconditionally. For this, I will always be grateful, and I will move forward, committing my life to honoring those who lost theirs.
Phil Claudy is in the Class of 2018 at Dartmouth College, and is majoring in Economics. He can be reached on Facebook, Instagram, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donate to Phil's GoFundMe account to raise money for OneOrlando and the victims of the Pulse shooting.