Showing Courage

Courage: the ability to do something that frightens one. The origins of the word are from Middle English (denoting the heart as the seat of feelings): from Old French corage, from Latin cor “heart.”

Most people have been courageous in their lives, have had brief moments when they carried on despite an uncertain outcome, often at risk to themselves. And while most people don’t consider themselves to be particularly courageous, they have stood in wonder when they witnessed courageous action: the firefighter running into a burning building or someone who stood up for a cause bigger than themselves.

I remember watching as the young man stood in front of the tank during the Tiananmen Square democracy protests that took place in Beijing on June 9, 1989. The protest turned into a massacre as troops with assault rifles and tanks killed unarmed civilians who tried to block the military’s advance. The next morning as a row of tanks maneuvered into position a single man stood in front of them, blocking their way. The world watched as the tanks hesitated and then turned, but the man only shifted his position and continued to obstruct the tanks’ attempted path.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community knows a great deal about courage. The recent shooting in Orlando, Florida, represents the largest mass shooting that has taken place on U.S. soil, and it was focused on members of the LGBT community, with a large number of the 49 dead being of Latino heritage. This tragedy not only highlights the need to rethink how we might end such unbelievable suffering, but also provides an opportunity to highlight the violence and harassment that is perpetrated on the LGBT community.

According to a recent New York Times report, LGBT people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority group. The report highlights how 20 percent of the nearly 5,500 hate crimes in 2014 were directed at people within the LGBT community, bypassing those in the Jewish population of being most likely targets of hate crimes in America just because of who they were born, who they are.

“Even before the shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were already the most likely targets of hate crimes in America, according to an analysis of data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. LGBT people are twice as likely to be targeted as African-Americans, and the rate of hate crimes against them has surpassed that of crimes against Jews.” (Read report)

Ironically, according to the report, some of the increased violence directed toward the LGBT community may be due to an increase in the general acceptance of sexual orientation, which may have radicalized some who oppose such normalization.

A few days after the Orlando shooting I received a call from a good friend in Miami. We were in the Navy together and he’s someone I often look to for guidance, wisdom and insight. He’s gay.

“Tim,” Joe said, his voice serious and heavy, “I went to a Pride celebration last night.”

I remained silent. I’d read that threats had been made to the LGBT community throughout the country, but especially in Miami. Joe has more sense than most people I’ve met, but going out after a mass shooting of his community sounded like taking an unneeded risk.

He could sense my question.

“I had to go out,” he said. “We can’t let one fanatic stop us from living our lives.”

When we see someone display courage it brings with it a mix of emotions, especially when it comes from our dear friends or loved ones.

For me these moments also bring with them a broader question: Who do I want to be? Do I want to be someone who brings more pain and suffering into this already difficult world? Or, do I want to be someone who might bring a little peace and relief?

I know my own answer, yet it often takes more courage than I can muster at the time. But when I witness courage it implores me to take heart, reminding me that there are many good people out there who have stood, and remain standing, choosing peace and acceptance over hate and violence.

I think about all those people living lives of courage, taking steps that might bring about change and freedom from fear and the threat of violence. Sometimes these people are stepping in front of a tank. Other times they are just walking out their doors, trying to live their lives in peace.

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Originally published in the Weekly Calistogan, June 2016