WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Town Square Tribute

By on June 21, 2016

Gleaning hope from Jackson Hole locals and visitors after the Orlando tragedy.

The author speaks to a crowd that came together last week to honor the victims of the Orlando mass shooting. (Photo: Mark Houser)

The author speaks to a crowd that came together last week to honor the victims of the Orlando mass shooting. (Photo: Mark Houser)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Sometimes it’s easy to forget that beyond our small town reality, beyond these tremendous mountains that contain us, there is a completely different world out there. These are the places where tourists and transplants come from, and the places we travel to when we need an escape. With the exception of the occasional hometown tragedy, such as the untimely death of Kayden Quinn Tapia, 16, last week, we are far removed from the chaos transpiring in much of the world.

Since we’re so removed from reality, it’s not uncommon to read about a tragedy like a mass shooting and not feel affected. Perhaps you’ll shake your head at the notion of senseless violence as you stand in line at Pearl St. Bagels. Normally, it’s not until we read about events close to home—a bison attack or a poor soul who got boiled alive in a Yellowstone hot spring that we start to really have a visceral reaction.

But when I read about the shooting in Orlando, Fla., where 49 members of the LGBT community were gunned down by a deranged, self-hating gunman, the news hit me like a charging buffalo.

Knowing that this happened in the safety of a gay dance club, where revelers were celebrating LGBT pride month and Latin night, absolutely floored me. I myself have partied in gay dance clubs in Chicago and in Europe, and, in the middle of such a caring, supportive, and energetic community, my own insecurities and self-doubts were shrouded in love. And while this type of armor can block out hate and bigotry, it cannot stop bullets.

I spent much of that Sunday hiding tears and crying in private. I was cooking a three-course meal for my parents and their friends that day, so I was thankful for the distraction of food prep and cooking. But I still felt a rock in my stomach, because my more conservative-leaning family wasn’t going to discuss the murder of these innocent men and women without politicizing it. When my step-brother Caelan arrived, he gave me a hug and told me he loved me. It was a small gesture but it meant the world. My appetite was minimal. I watched them eat.

Luke Zender, a dancer at Dancers’ Workshop, texted me asking if I wanted to help organize a pride walk. A day later, my friend and Planet reporter Meg Daly sent a Facebook message to a few LGBT members of our community, myself included, asking whether we wanted to get together for a drink in solidarity. I realized we had to do something more than just a toast. We had to do something that captured the spirit of Meg’s idea while gathering a group big enough for Luke’s vision.

So with Luke and Meg’s blessings, I sent out a Facebook post on Tuesday morning to get our community together for a gathering on the town square. I didn’t know what exactly we were going to do or what I was going to say, but I knew the most important thing was to gather as many people as we could to stand in solidarity with the victims.

Mark Houser, local coordinator for the Jackson Hole chapter of PFLAG, was first to arrive and I soon joined him for a Jackson Hole first: hanging LGBT pride flags in the town square. Soon after people began filtering into the square, 10 folks, 20 folks, then more. Meg and I looked at each other wondering what to do next—we hadn’t really planned further than this very moment. But when we stood in front of the crowd, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Having grown up in Jackson, I’ve never seen so much local support for the LGBT community in one place. It was a moment of sheer triumph not just for us local members of the LGBT community, but for the victims in Orlando as well. The people of Jackson as well as a handful of tourists passing by were uniting because they too were affected by what happened 2,000-plus miles away. And we stood in solidarity and hugged and shared stories. For a once-closeted gay kid growing up in conservative Wyoming, it was the most beautiful, overwhelming moment that I can remember.

This column is about adventures and rediscovering the beauty of my hometown. On Tuesday, I saw that beauty in every single face that stared back at me as I read aloud the names of the Orlando victims. Because what’s absolutely certain is that while love and support can’t physically stop bullets, they can dissuade the people shooting them. This is not a time for political pandering and Islamophobia. This is a time for awareness, for community support, for unconditional, enduring love. PJH

About Andrew Munz

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