Thoughts on Orlando (by Scott Douglas, Chair of the LGBT Law Section)

Friends and colleagues:

As I write this, it is just after 3:00 am in Orlando. The candles from tonight’s vigil are still burning amid the roses in our garden where we set them down in the fading light of this sad day and watched the sky bleed red at sunset. Like all of us, my husband and I awoke this morning to the shock and horror of news both too familiar and wholly foreign: unprecedented savagery unleashed against our community, a hail of bullets cutting down 50 of us: our friends, our colleagues, our children parents siblings lovers allies compañeros amantes hijas amigos: nuestra comunidad.

As attorneys, we fight our battles within the bounds of the rule of law, even when it is the law itself that we battle to change. Ours is a profession established as an alternative to violence: courts of law meting out justice rather than vigilante mobs, individuals settling their disputes through argument and persuasion rather than through duels in the street, marginalized peoples organizing to change laws which oppress us rather than rising in bloody, armed insurrection. We work year upon year to make the laws more just, to offer our clients and ourselves greater protections from violence, from injustice, from humiliation, from savagery. Our struggles have brought us so far within the realm of law from where we began decades ago, fighting for our most basic rights. Last June we wept in the streets with joy as marriage equality became the law of the land on Pride Day. We rang in the new year with new protections for our Trans community in public accommodation, bolstered by the most supportive president we’ve ever seen in the White House.

And yet today, we find that we are still, again, fighting for our very lives. Still, again, we cry in the streets not in joy, but in horrified reaction to a new awful, violent milestone in our struggle for rights and equality. Harvey Milk. Matthew Shepard. Half a million dead from AIDS. And now 50 beautiful, ebullient Latinx and their friends killed, and as many more wounded, as they danced and kissed and celebrated Pride.

In the coming days we will learn the names and stories of the victims. 50 funerals will be held. There will be vigils and tears and moments of silence amid the now-mitigated revelry of Pride celebrations across the nation and indeed across the globe. There will be anger and rage and demands for justice. But, there will be no justice in Orlando. The gunman is dead. We will at best have guesses as to why this man committed this paroxysm of murder. There will be no trial, no sentence, no rule of law to give shape and focus to the madness. There will be no restitution for the victims nor their families. The law here is helpless to redress the damage inflicted on Orlando and on our community, and that is not an easy thing to admit as an attorney. Tonight we’re just broken-hearted people hugging our friends and families in grief, wondering why and how and what next.

But tomorrow we will, as attorneys, look for answers. We will continue our work toward a more just society with greater protections. Our discussions, CLEs, and legal forums will have to expand to address a broader range of issues. Like it or not, there is no longer any doubt that gun control and gun rights are now, clearly, LGBT legal issues, as is the Queer response to global and domestic terrorism. We will rise to meet the challenges exposed by this day of barbarity, and as attorneys, we will shape the law to bring about greater protection, equality, and justice. I don’t know how exactly, but we will, because we always have. We must.

Today has been brutal, and tomorrow is going to be just as brutal as the shock and numbness wears off and the horrible truth of today’s events sinks in. Over the coming weeks our bright rainbow Pride flags will fly at half-mast and our celebrations will also be wakes as we mourn the members of our broad, beautiful family that we’ve lost.And we’ll march on, as we always have. We must. As Cesar Chavez said, “We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”

La lucha sigue, hoy, mañana, y siempre.

Scott Douglas

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