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The Rev. Justo González II: Let’s embrace others with love, compassion

I am a pastor. I am Puerto Rican. I am a member of the Latino community. I am gay. Until recently I lived in Orlando, Fla. On June 12, I woke up early as I do every Sunday to prepare for services at church, Pilgrim-St. Luke’s & El Nuevo Camino United Church of Christ. Learning of the attack on Pulse nightclub, I was frantic.

My friends go to Pulse. I have danced on that dance floor. Our safe space as LGBTQI people was violated. Violence and hate once again violated us. I thought of my friends, Jose, Scott, Joseph and Angel David. Calls and texts were made. None was directly impacted and yet, like me, everyone was impacted by this senseless brutal attack.

As a man of faith, I grieve for people unknown to me because they, too, are my sisters and brothers. My pain is deep. My prayer is profound.

Forty-nine individuals were taken from us for simply being who they are. And who were the people at Pulse? The answer is very clear. The majority were Puerto Rican, and other people of color. They enjoyed the music that moves my Latino soul. They loved to dance salsa and other Latin beats. They were primarily young people. They were women and men who sought and found community at Pulse. They enjoyed a drink. In other words, they are you. They are me. Let us reflect on that reality.

Yes, some were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Some were straight allies. Others were questioning their sexual orientation and still uncertain of it. Some were mothers and fathers. Does it matter that their sexual orientation might be different than your own? Absolutely not. They are children of God; people of worth and dignity who were not afforded love in this heinous act of hate.

Some see us as “faggots,” “defective matter” or “anathema.” Regrettably, it has often been our churches that have taught individuals that hate of certain “others” is acceptable. Quite frankly, ungodly acts have denied the dignity and worth of many people of color and LGBTQI children of God. Some religious systems teach parishioners that the lives of their gay mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts and friends have less value and worth simply because of who they love. Shame on us! Love is love, is love, is love …

Tell me, please, which of the mothers or fathers at Pulse lack value and worth? Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool was dancing with her son. This Puerto Rican mother threw herself over Isaiah, her son, to protect him. She lived love. She died living her faith, “no greater love has one that gives their life for another” (John 15:13). She is a heroine. Her life and the life of her son have worth.

What about the LGBTQI people of color and straight individuals who were assassinated? Their lives have innate worth and dignity given by God. Our call is to love everyone. Tragically, many embrace hate and judgment. Let us be light unto others. Choose love.

I have no doubt that God cries with us. God cries at the level of violence that we perpetrate against one another. God cries at acts of violence. God cries every time we negate each other.

Hate and violence cannot define us. I refuse to hate. Instead, I commit to loving you. I offer hugs and honor your dignity. Love wins. Love always wins. Let us embrace Orlando and each other with love and compassion.

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