During my first week as an intern in his office, my congressman made headlines after introducing a bill that called for protection of the rights of minority groups, especially the LGBTQ community. The bill specifically addressed and sought to end the claim of protecting one’s own rights, usually one’s religious freedoms, as a justification for denying equal rights to a citizen of LGBTQ identity. I had always agreed that no citizen should be able to limit the equality and rights of another citizen by citing one’s own personal freedoms and religious beliefs. But after the SCOTUS ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, it seemed the justification of religious freedoms would remain upheld for good. I applauded my congressman’s bravery in putting himself into a controversial place and proposing legislation that protected a minority group, and even went against the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Throughout the month of May we continuously planned and discussed the congressman’s participation in the Boston Pride Parade. Our congressman was organizing members of the district’s communities to march with him in the parade. Again, I was so proud to be interning with such a remarkable congressman; one who fully supports all of his constituents and all of the communities he represents.
It was a week after I’d finished my internship in the congressman’s office. On June 11, my congressman marched in Boston with tens of thousands of people to demonstrate their LGBTQ pride and their equally important support for their fellow citizens and Bostonians. I was pleasantly surprised by how supportive my surrounding community was, in both its leadership and community members. Then the following day, I learned of the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I was shocked. Yes it was another mass shooting in our country. But it was also a targeted attack on a specific group of Americans. The same group of Americans for whom my community had demonstrated such vocal support just one day prior.
What upset me all the more was the backlash throughout our country. Following the shooting, criticism was thrown at the Muslim community. Somehow because the shooter of a nightclub called himself a Muslim, the entire Muslim community was under extreme, misplaced scrutiny, criticism, and hate. Even our Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Trump, had to respond that he was right on “radical Islamic terrorism” and that he wants “toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” However Mr. Trump is not smart in his call for toughness and vigilance, because toughness and vigilance are not what we need in our communities and our nation. Vigilance is what keeps us afraid of each other. And toughness is what keeps us from engaging as an inclusive, thriving community.
As a nation we cannot be ignorant of, nor afraid, any community or group of people. As we do in Wake the Vote, we all must engage with each other in respectful, constructive dialogue to understand who we all truly are. In both the tragic shooting and its disturbing backlash, we can see the unfortunate fear and ignorance we have in our country. Until we can see each other as members of the same community, an American community, then we cannot have a healthy and functioning country and democracy. We need more leaders in our communities and country who, like my congressman, lead us by example. We must do as my congressman did, and continues to do, and demonstrate our support for others through our actions and speech. We may not all identify as part of the same specific identities, but we must acknowledge, support, and respect those other identities and communities, because together we all make up the United States.