In the past, when I thought of Florida, I thought of family. I thought of my grandpa who packed up his life in Baltimore to become one of the first residents of Cape Coral. I thought of my father telling me stories about growing up, like the time he drove a car to the beach at the age of 10. I also thought about progress. I thought about my aunt, Elizabeth Schwartz, an LGBT legal rights advocate in Florida, where she was part of a team of lawyers that successfully challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. I thought about when I came out to her. I thought about bringing my girlfriend to stay at her apartment in Miami. I thought about her fight for equality in Florida.
From now on, when I think of Florida, I will also think about the immeasurable pain and suffering that the LGBT community and their families have experienced. The Orlando attack is a reminder that the fight for equality is not over. Although so many people have fought for us, there is still a battle yet to be won. While we may have made great strides, there are still people out there who hate us. It’s easy to forget that when we have made so much incredible progress, but we cannot allow ourselves to forget.
With the attack occurring so soon before the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what pride means to me. Pride has always been about celebrating: Celebrating who we are, celebrating the right to be ourselves in public, celebrating love.
I have spent many pride weekend nights in a club, much like Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and have always loved how freeing it felt to be in what felt like a safe space. To be able to let loose without the fear of judgment or harassment. To be able to dance with and kiss my girlfriend without worrying about what anyone else was thinking. It’s heartbreaking to think that the victims in Orlando were in their safe space and that their safe space was violated.
Read more: The Gay Bar as Safe Space Has Been Shattered
The New York City Pride Parade and all pride celebrations were borne out of people trying to silence us and punish us for being who we are. We could not be silenced then, and we will not be silenced now. We will march in the parade, celebrating those who fought so tirelessly for the rights and privileges we have today, and we will mourn for those we have lost in the senseless attack in Orlando. But we will not be afraid. We will not let those who hate us define us. We will be louder and stronger, and prouder.
Roxanne Schwartz is a community experience lead at Adobe and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the workplace.