Seven months ago, I was at a concert in Paris on a Friday night. I was there with other young people, enjoying a night out with music, with friends. At the same time, in another part of the city, hundreds of others were doing exactly the same thing at the Bataclan concert hall. For some reason I will never understand, my concert was spared, and theirs was not. Machine gun bullets tore through the Bataclan, through Paris, through flesh and bone, and the city was swiftly engulfed in chaos.
Foolishly, some might say, I made my way towards the unfolding tragedy that night: I ran down to the scene of one of the shootings at Le Carillon restaurant. Notebook and camera in hand, I tried my best to put fear and emotion aside to do my job: to observe, witness, ask questions. Later, I headed to the Bataclan and watched as huddled masses covered in blood fled the concert hall.
The days that followed were tense and often sleepless, but still I kept emotion at bay as I answered calls from news networks, was interviewed on TV, wrote more stories, spoke to more witnesses. It was only about a week later, after panic had finally subsided, that I allowed myself the chance to grieve, making my way back to Le Carillon, to République, to light a candle and stand with others who had survived—and finally weep.
Last weekend, after many months away, I went back to Paris. It was Friday night again, but this time the air was warm and pleasant. Parisians were out in full force, drinking, smoking, enjoying their city in spring. I went to dinner at a place not far from Le Carillon. Just a few months ago the restaurant had been shuttered, Le Petit Cambodge across the street was splattered with bullet holes, people held each other and laid flowers. Now the scene could not have been more different.
Le Carillon was not just open, it was so full that people had spilled out onto the street and were standing together, laughing, talking, and drinking. Le Petit Cambodge had reopened too, its shattered floor-to-ceiling windows restored in defiance, a broken façade rebuilt. While we ate dinner, the city erupted in cheers as its soccer team defeated Romania in the Stade de France—which had also months before been the center of terror—now full to capacity with roaring, proud French fans.
In the days after the Paris attacks, all my Parisian friends said that they would not be defeated or cowed. They insisted that Paris would recover, that friendship and unity and the spirit of being Parisian would triumph. With the sounds of gunshots and sirens still ringing in my ears, I found it hard to believe. Now, seven months later, I saw they were right: Paris had rebuilt and recovered—terror had well and truly lost.
Then I woke up on Sunday morning. Like a horrible dream, I sat in my Paris apartment and watched the Orlando massacre unfold across the Atlantic. Again the huddled figures, the sirens, the rising death toll. This time, I could not hide behind a journalistic wall and put aside emotion: I could only watch in horror and feel utterly helpless. The attack felt all the more personal because it was directed at my wonderful LGBTQ family. I left Paris devastated, my feelings of hope and triumph over tragedy dashed. How can we find hope in the wake of so much hate?
On Monday, I awoke to a rainy day in Berlin—it felt appropriate, like the earth itself was grieving. The city seemed especially grey, but outside the American embassy, there was a splash of color: bright rainbow flags, flowers, the stars and stripes. Here, below the imposing Brandenburg gate and just a few hundred yards from the memorial to homosexuals killed in the Holocaust, people gathered to remember a new atrocity: 49 people brutally murdered. Berliners and Americans, gay and straight, cis and trans, all gathered to pay their respects to an attack that has hit the LGBTQ community worldwide.
It was a somber moment, but also comforting. Berlin is no stranger to hate, having borne witness to one of the greatest horrors in history. Here too, LGBTQ people were targeted and killed. Here too, politicians built literal walls to keep people divided. But here too the wall was torn down, here too queerness thrives like nowhere else, here too there’s an LGBTQ refugee shelter, a sanctuary for those persecuted because of who they love. Like Paris, Berlin shows us that even the most horrific, brutal, vile moments of violence can be grieved, repaired, and healed.
Later that night, I went out to dinner with some close gay friends who were in Berlin from New York and London. We talked about Orlando and how awful it was, but we also watched on our phones as thousands came together in the streets of London and later outside the Stonewall in New York, as the Eiffel Tower, which had gone dark after the Paris attacks, was lit up in brilliant rainbow colors. I felt, like never before, embraced by a truly global gay family, grieving and supporting each other.
Later, we ended up at a gay bar. Much has been written about the fact that, for the LGBTQ community, gay bars and clubs are sanctuaries where queer people can feel safe, and for that reason the Orlando attack felt like such an abhorrent violation. That night, this bar in Berlin, with its plush red walls and many chandeliers, its throbbing disco music and spinning mirror balls, felt like such a refuge of pure, unbridled queerness. As I held my boyfriend’s hand and laughed with my friends, I almost forgot about the horrors of the last few days. Then a sign next to the bar caught my eye: printed on a rainbow flag, “We Are Orlando.”
And so we are. From Paris to Berlin, London to New York, Seoul to São Paulo, we are one family, grieving together. We are Orlando not because of the persecution that we must endure or the tragedy we must witness, but because, as Parisians have done in the wake of their own horror, as queer people did after Stonewall and Laramie, we show the world that unity is stronger than fear, courage trumps hate, and love does indeed conquer all.