What I want you to talk about when you talk about the Orlando shooting.

Last weekend, there was a shooting in a gay night club. I've felt this feeling before.

I remember this feeling.

I am 18, and I am at a stoplight. A pickup truck pulls up next to me in the turn lane. I glance; inside the truck are three or four guys, my high school classmates. It’s June. Their windows are down, they are listening to classic rock, and they are wearing undershirts in the heat. I know they’ve seen me, so I timidly wave hello.


Photo via iStock.

Did they wave back or did they laugh and call me a faggot? It doesn’t matter. The light turns green, and I go. The truck swerves out of the turn lane to go straight, and follows me closely. Here’s where I feel it.

My heart beats faster and faster and my knuckles are white on the steering wheel. If I drive home, they will know where I live, and if I drive to a friend’s house and that friend isn’t home, I’ll be alone with them — either way, I risk not even making it to the door. But if I keep driving, they could run me off the road. I have to stop, but I can’t find a safe place.

Finally, shaking, I decide on a gas station. And as I approach the parking lot, I glance in my rearview mirror: The truck turns away and disappears, as if none of this ever happened.

I grew up in Missouri, close to St. Louis, but far enough away that I could play Marco Polo in a wheat field.

When I came out of the closet, I knew of no other gay kids in my high school’s student body of 1,000. I was a senior then, and it was terrifying. Because when I was a freshman, I saw the story of Matthew Shepard’s torture and murder on the TV news. It happened to a kid like me in a town like mine, and I never forgot: It could happen to me too.

When I saw news of the massacre in Orlando, I could see that truck swerving in my rearview mirror again.

I imagine many queer people felt the same way.

The window of a gay bar in Brussels. Photo by Siska Gremmelprez for AFP/Getty Images.

For us, this is different from other all-too-frequent mass shootings, and it is not the same as other terror attacks. This attack was meant to remind queer people, specifically, that despite all of the progress of the last two decades, we can still be made to feel that we exist only at the mercy of others. It was designed to humiliate as much as it was to exterminate — to trick us into believing our breath is a luxury rather than a right.

Queer folks know better than to buy into this. Our diversity can be dizzying — we are intersections of trans, bi, lesbian, gay, gender-non-conforming, black, Latinx, white, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and so many other identities. But one thread ties all of us together: We know the importance of asserting our humanity. And despite all the risks, we’ll keep doing it.

Our elected officials might be tempted, as any of us might be, to treat this shooting as a gun rights issue alone or as an issue of terrorism or national security.

It is certainly those things: Calls for reforming gun policy, and calls for love instead of terror are valid. But this attack did not occur randomly; it was not aimed at the general public. It was aimed at queer people. And addressing it as though the identities of the victims are of tertiary importance — identities for which real people bled to death — is more than dishonest. It’s a new kind of erasure, a quieter kind of violence.

Flowers at a memorial in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun for Getty Images.

There are politicians who fight their hardest to steal the dignity of trans people, who fought against my right to marry, and who ignore the epidemic of homelessness among queer youth of color. Watch now as they pirouette gracefully: They will say an attack on gay Americans is an attack on all Americans. They will say this should strengthen our resolve to arm every schoolteacher. They will use it to justify pouring money and lives into the war on ISIS. It is our civic duty to hold them accountable for this hypocrisy.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.

For my entire life, I have heard from public servants, faith leaders, and even some friends and family members that my existence is an inconvenience — or an abhorrence. Imagine it.

Now imagine real violence done to people who dare exist like me. And imagine it going unspoken or being used for political gain. Imagine what it would feel like to have someone who hates you suddenly force you to take their hand in fellowship.

A year ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed gay people the right to marry all across the country.

I celebrated with my fiancé. I saw rainbows everywhere, online and off. I was buoyed by the outpouring of love, pride, and positivity that followed.

I thought that — just maybe — that shaky 18-year-old, knuckles white on the steering wheel, had finally found the safety he deserved. Imagine being wrong about that.

You’d be angry too.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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