By ANTHONY J. ZARZYCKI
If you are in the State College area and would like to support the Borough Council and Pennsylvania (1 of 19 states which do not do so) including gender identity- and sexual orientation-focused charges as hate crimes, Anthony J. Zarzycki will be circulating a petition each day in the HUB this week on the information tables downstairs, open for signing.
A black top with white letters reads “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. –Desmond Tutu”. A tank top, “LOVE IS LOVE”. Socks with “GAY” stitched vertically. “PENN STATE LIVES QUEER”: shirt.
Over a thousand miles away from the site of the deadliest non-military involved mass shooting in this land’s history, our community of Penn State and State College gathered to honor half-a-hundred souls lost Sunday. I arrived a quarter-hour early to Old Main lawn.
I’ve been to community gatherings before: the rally on this same grass when the sanctions were lifted, both homecomings—one of which I participated in. There’s also a unique community gathering which is not as lively. In terms of vigils, I helped organize the event after the Paris attacks which paid respects to the multiple other terrorist attacks abroad.
In life, there are times we rejoice, and we call them celebrations. There are times we remember, and we call them memorials. There are times we worship, and we call them holidays. There are times we grieve, and we call them funerals. In life, there are times we feel all of those emotions at once, and we call those vigils.
To those who have ever smoked cigars or cigarettes, it’s similar to the first drag: calming yet initiative, intolerable but soothing.
The array of speakers included everybody from provosts to representatives from churches, university administration, student organizations, and LGBTQA+ liaisons. I listened. I prayed to a god I’d forsaken. Others prayed for those god forsook. In an amicable span of time, those gathered linked arms on Old Main’s base. The names of those dead were spoken, each accompanied by the ringing of a bell. Then came those without a publicized identity. Ring. Ring. Ring.
I didn’t inherit the gay community, I forfeited straighthood and interjected myself into a vacuum of dissent and misfit. Most people around my age, or at least most people in my hometown, mutated themselves from confusion to denial to closeted experimentation to hushed acceptance—a Stages of Grief spanning years and adolescence.
We weren’t given pride parades but instead watched court decisions like an onlooker of a family’s Christmas present-giving, satisfied in the jubilee, unable to embrace in it. Even though the latter end of our upbringing included declarations of gay acceptance, they proceeded only to be qualified with “but not in public”, a message branded into our daily lives like a hanging portrait whose eyes always stared at yours. Along with many of my peers and colleagues, we caught the tail end of the Closeted Generation. To watch an amiable assemblage then mourn those like me and celebrate their lifestyles was as joyful as it was petrifying.
I could have been one of them. This could have happened here. I would have had my ring.
I felt my sophomore year the solution to be acceptance albeit with a dosage of flamboyancy-tranquilizer. As I saw the students with gay pride on the front of their shirts and an NSO blue bag on their backs, the elderly holding hands in the audience, and babies in strollers playing with the rainbow flag flowing like a windy landscape, I realized I no longer belonged to the not-straight group but the gay community. By the end of the vigil, I felt I was accepted as well as a person. With value. With dignity. Worth remembering, if only for this tragic, inspiring late afternoon.
This massacre occurred in the Orlando nightclub The Pulse, and though the pulse of half-a-hundred souls faded into that place warm days expire to when night comes, the life of many communities beat on with bombastic pride and unfettering cooperation, louder than ever.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
A shirt. A rainbow ribbon button. “June 12, 2016”.
Photo Credit: Anthony J. Zarzycki