Five years ago, 49 individuals lay motionless on a nightclub floor.
No one could save them from the slaughter.
No one could confirm their last words.
No one could hold them close, and tell them everything was going to be alright.
On the night of June 12, 2016, the usual vibrancy of the Pulse nightclub was replaced by a blood-stricken scene of screams and bullet holes. A 29-year-old gunman decided to take the lives of more than four dozen members of the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando.
This atrocity — the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001 — can never be undone.
All we can do is hope that our commemorations serve those 49 individuals justice, and allow for them to live on in the way they should have if such an abhorrent atrocity had never occured.
Yet, this suffering and sadness was given a whole new dimension a few months ago. When Mark Anthony Henson attempted to completely erase this important episode of history with just one flicker of fire.
This criminal set part of the memorial alight in an attempt to simultaneously destroy the memory of the 49 victims, and decay the solidarity of a community of people mourning such senseless and homophobic violence.
On the surface level, Henson almost succeeded, as he successfully fled from the scene. Thankfully, the fire burned out and the man was ultimately brought to justice with a criminal charge.
But, what we witnessed that day on Orange Avenue is the vindictive power of one criminal attempt to decay an entire community in one fell swoop.
This must stop.
We need to understand that memorial destruction like this holds the same malevolent power as the original crime it commemorates. It is a complete insult to memory, and acts like a knife re-tracing the same emotional scars.
The destruction or defacement of any memorial acts as a precursor. It paves the way for the next tragedy to occur, and plants the seeds of anger and hatred as something we should automatically associate with the LGBTQ+ community.
So what can we do to fight against actions like this?
Ultimately, every single one of us must make an effort to concern ourselves with issues that do not concern themselves with us.
That’s the case if you know the victims, or are part of the LGBTQ+ community, or have ties to Florida (or even with Pulse nightclub specifically). And it’s especially the case if you don’t have any ties to the aforementioned communities. It makes no difference whatsoever.
We all need to come together in the name of those who no longer can.
Brutalities against the LGBTQ+ community are tragically going to continue, unless we take a stand.
Act as if you have a target on your back because you’re wearing clothing that doesn’t fit what your gender should wear.
Speak out as if your cousin was bullied for using a restroom that ‘wasn’t his to use,’ and mocked for his gender realignment surgery scars.
Protest as if your friend was kicked out of her house by her parents for kissing another girl.
Vote as if your sibling could have been one of the Pulse victims themselves.
Refuse to give these people the power.
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org