Following is the text of a statement I gave in the Senate about the shooting deaths of 49 people in a Bar in Orlando Florida on June 12, 2016:
Honourable Senators, shortly after midnight on Saturday night, our openly gay daughter sat and laughed with us, as my wife and I and her sisters sang her “Happy Birthday,” – badly I might add, as all families do, but with huge amounts of love. She turned 33 on Sunday, June 12.
At almost the same moment, an American filled with hate for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, queer and two-spirit people carried his legally purchased machine gun and pistol into a bar in Orlando, Florida, and started killing everyone he could.
Eventually, over a period of three hours, he hunted down all those he could find in the bar and killed 49 young men and women, whose only reason for being targeted was that they were celebrating Pride month and were openly gay.
Much has been made of the shooter’s connection to Islamic terrorism and his ability to purchase, own and carry guns, despite his history of mental disturbance and violence. American politicians and others will line up in one camp or the other to denounce those who they say caused this to happen, whether close at hand or remote. The number of political footballs this event presents for such use is significant. You need only look at the headlines today to get a flavour of that.
But yesterday and today, I thought only of the 49 mothers and fathers whose hearts are broken and whose lives have been torn asunder, and I think every day of the fact that I could have been, and could yet be, one of them. I think of the dozens of brothers and sisters born into the victims’ families, whose anger and tears may never end, and I think of the fact that my other children couldhave been, and could yet be, among them as well.
Society’s dislike and disrespect for those who are gay and transgendered has been a part of Western thinking for many generations. The recent and growing enhancement and recognition of their right to be who they are, and their right to public protection of those rights, does not sit well with far too many people, the shooter in this case being representative of that.
When my daughter spoke to us as a young teenager of her recognition of who she was, we stood beside her and gave her every assurance of our love and of her right to be open about what she was – a strong, free and gay woman.
What my wife and I could not bring ourselves to discuss with her, or between ourselves, at that moment, was that her openness about being gay enhanced her risk of danger. She was already living a life of enhanced danger just by being female. That danger was increased by the fact that she was at higher at-risk because she was an Indigenous woman. Yet we were immensely proud of her for her accomplishments and her honesty, and we loved her. Our love for her overcame every fear we had.
We told her our truth – that among Indigenous people, being a two-spirit was traditionally a position of respect and honour. Spiritual ceremonies we told her, are enhanced if done by or with two-spirit people present, for it is believed that they embody the strengths and spirits of both man and woman and bring a special healing power and medicine to such events.
She has brought great respect to our family. She grew to be a star athlete and competed on National Championship teams in Softball. She was invited to try out for Canada’s National Team, but because the try-out camp fell at a time that conflicted with our annual traditional Spring Ceremonies, she declined. She was offered a full scholarship to attend and play for an elite American Division 1 University softball team -in Florida, not far from the site of this tragedy – but declined that too when she concluded it was too far away from family. Family and traditional ceremonies were about who she was. Softball was what she did. She studied Infomatics – the science of computer coding – and has volunteered many hours teaching it to classes of young women to encourage them to get into the male dominated field, telling them that the first computer coders were, in fact, women. She has met and surpassed the primary test I set for all my children – make this a better world.
We are said to be blessed by having her as a daughter because she is two-spirit, and we believe that to be so. We adopted another two-spirit daughter into our family as well, whose partner just gave birth to our newest grandson. He will be raised by two-spirit parents.
As parents of two-spirits, we want to protect our children from the bullying, the offensive comments, the disparaging remarks and the physical and verbal abuses that every member of the LGBTQ2S experiences. We have learned to shield them and to heal them when our shields prove insufficient.
What we fear the most is that someone will murder them just for being gay. The belief that such an event could occur would be enough for many to discourage their children from coming out, and it would also discourage the children themselves. Yet, that would be wrong. You cause great damage to yourself, when you spend so much time and energy hiding part of yourself from the outside world. Such secrets have a way of feeding small fears and making them big ones.
So in our moment of silence today, I thought of the parents.
We as a society have all lost something as a civilized people in this act of mass murder, but they have lost more than we can ever know.