An attack against one of us is against all of us

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Sunday morning, I have a ritual. I go work out with friends or alone for a couple of hours. I usually wave to Pastor Tia Wildermuth of First United Methodist as I walk by her church about the same time people are walking into service. This past Sunday I heard about Orlando, and it seemed like one more mass casualty event: Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Paris bombings, the London Underground attacks, stabbings at schools in China, and I like many of us (and now I am disgusted with myself) just went on with my day. I want you to think about that. We just go on with our lives. Why? Because we live life in “The Bubble.”

And then the story started to become clear. It was a deliberate attack by a hate-filled, American born, ISIS-supporting terrorist on a gay nightclub in Orlando, which I have been to. I have friends in the city. The shooter had used gay social media to network with his targets and surveilled the site. He called 911 to ensure his message of hate was clear, crisp and available. It was 49 dead (I deliberately exclude the shooter) and at least that many wounded. By a single person. I was horrified, sick and enraged. How could this happen? Those were my brothers and sisters in the LGBT+ community. I had been a promoter; producing huge fundraisers with thousands of people dancing the night away, raising money for HIV/AIDS research and sitting on boards in Philadelphia, Washington, DC and New York. As of this writing, I still don’t know if all of my friends and acquaintances of that area are alive or injured.

I was catapulted back to the candlelight vigil on Oct. 12th, 2011 standing with Ellery Deaton, Pastor Don Shoemaker and then the week of tense meetings in the City Manager’s conference room for public relations and media. I recalled as if it were yesterday the formation of the Seal Beach Victims’ Fund Trust, bagging groceries with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and beginning the process of distribution of the fund from the trust with my fellow trustees. I remember speaking to victims and trying to create the impossible calculus that could somehow disperse money to people, where no amount of money could have ever “fixed” their tragic loss and traumas.

At nearly the same time, my internal narrative connected getting married on the beach just down from where we live on 11th Street in front of our families. Some of you were there, and some of you joined us at our reception at 320 Main and some saw us proudly holding hands and riding in the Seal Beach Christmas Parade as Cypress College Citizen of the Year on Dec. 6th, 2013. I thought of the joy of being Grand Marshall of the Parade the year before with me and Anthony wearing tuxedos. I remember reconciling with a local business leader as he and I both worked through some preconceived notions about each other, and now he is one of my strongest mentors and advocates. I was held along this thin line of horror and joy, tragedy and triumph, the razor’s edge of adversity and success.

Then it hit me why I was so very upset. The horrors for me were shockingly similar, and that is my core message to all of you. An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us. First, as a member of that minority group, Orlando is personal for me. Anthony, who just flew back to Seal Beach, shared with me how angry, stunned and upset he was, and that he experienced the same “delayed onset” that I did.

Yet, I realize that we should be outraged and heartbroken if it had been a Black, Jewish, Asian, Catholic or any other minority group. So I have made a commitment to do so, and take action. Now, perhaps, you would consider it too. I wrote to the mayor, city manager, chief of police and school superintendent about flying flags at half-mast. I was prepared to speak at oral communications at Council, but was stymied by the power outage (that’s a whole other article). I committed to writing this and sharing the intimate experience that I had to encourage others to reflect – whether in opposition or agreement, at least it would be a civil discussion.

Regardless of political party or affiliation, certainly we all can agree this was a hate crime and horror. As citizens of Seal Beach, California in the United States of America, we must reject hate as a value. We need to reject the language, thoughts and action of hate. It has no place in our community lexicon.

Let me be clear, this is not an Op-Ed piece about guns or radical Islam. It is, however, a reminder to my fellow citizens that although I may be a visible gay man in our community, there are a number of LGBT+ people in Old Town, Uptown, our businesses, neighborhoods, government and visitors. I ask you to consciously think about our community and that of our sister city, Orlando, right now.

To be a bit silly, a slogan during the ’90s was “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Thankfully, I can say, Seal Beach is used to it, mostly.

Acknowledge one of us that you might not have before. Ask if they are OK. Be human and compassionate. It seems so obvious, yet few people have asked me, and I am definitely out and proud. Thank you to those who have, you know who you are.

The discrimination and homophobia, like much of what happens in Seal Beach, is subtle and only occasionally encountered. Yet it is still here. I know it because I have experienced it. Ask some other minorities if they have felt it? I know the answer is yes. You know it too.

One day, I hope to realize that “it” is gone, yet maybe the best I can hope for is that it will be gone for the children who are in our lives when they are our age.

During the flag ceremony on Monday, another powerful duality occurred. Four groups, the Lions, the Chamber, Run Seal Beach and the Seal Beach Police Foundation and a couple, Jim and Judy Watson, came together to fund the installation of a new flagpole so our children at McGaugh could develop good citizenship and patriotism.

Thus, at 8:03 a.m., the flag was raised to the top and we pledged our allegiance. Following, Dr. Gargus and Chief Joe lowered the flag to half-mast and explained to our children that it was done to recognize a loss and a tragedy. It is my hope that as simple and clear as the message was, that we as people move toward this basic messaging.

It was wonderful and at the same time a bit sad.

So to my fellow Seal Beach citizens, thank you for your consideration and support because some of us might not be as open as I am, yet they feel the loss just as keenly. I am not sure what the best action is, but I know with thought, each of you will, because we are a great town with good, honest people who love one another.

Let’s find some way to help Orlando and our LGBT+ friends, neighbors and relatives, because as I said before, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

Seth Eaker and his husband Anthony have called Seal Beach home since 2006. He came out in 1991 at 18 years of age and has been an LGBT activist ever since. To submit your stories and opnions to the Sun News, email Editor Dixie Redfearn at editor@sunnews.org.