Orlando Shooting Speech

The following is the speech I gave at my old high school this morning...I was asked to do "an assembly on LGBT issues".  I couldn't not talk about this.


When I was thinking about what to talk about in this assembly, I thought about other topics I’ve covered with young people.  I only have 15 minutes, so I’ve got to make it snappy right?  Maybe go through definitions of LGBT identities, maybe talk about LGBT History, maybe discuss some LGBT stereotypes.

But then yesterday happened, and I knew what I had to say.

You see those other speeches are about easing you into acceptance- maybe if we normalise the discussion around LGBT people that will be enough- you’ll all work out on your own what I really want to say.  What I’m going to say today.

Yesterday, there was a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.  It was the deadliest single-gun man mass shooting in modern American history. It happened in an LGBT club. 50 people are dead.  Dozens more are in hospital.

Yesterday those hospital issued a call for help.  They needed people to come and donate blood because there were too many trauma patients for their banks to cope.  And people came, wanting to help and to stand defiant in the face of this hate crime. Lines that were hours long formed around hospital buildings. But there was one group who didn’t come.  Because they couldn’t. Because it is illegal for them to donate blood, as it is illegal for them to do so in the UK: gay and bisexual men.  Men had friends, boyfriends, husbands lying in those hospital beds, and they couldn’t do anything.

Statistically, there will be LGBT people in this room.  You will all have people in your lives, friends and family, people you love, who will be LGBT. That is reality.

I want you all to imagine being a young person, who is LGBT, and who is in the closet.  I want you to imagine them hearing this news that I’ve just told you.  The pain, the fear, the anxiety, the shame that this would drown them in.

Now think about coming to school, with all the negativity and worry building up inside you, and hearing people calling out “that’s so gay”.  Seeing your friends laughing as they use your hidden identity as an insult.  Watching as students get teased and bullied for looking, sounding, acting gay.  Never having LGBT people talked about in school except for “very special lesson”, which makes you feel more weird and different.  Never seeing happy LGBT on TV or in films growing up- watching as princes and princesses kissed and lived happily ever after.  Knowing that people saw LGBT people as too taboo, deviant, or “adult” for young people to see.

I made a video after the shooting yesterday because I needed to talk about this. In that video I told viewers that if they needed to talk they could leave a comment, message, or email for me.  Since yesterday I have had over 100 responses, some of which I want to share with you now:

“Fifty people were murdered for something they can't help, and still my instinctive reaction was to feel ashamed for being like them.”

“God i'm so scared... I have a rainbow anklet that I always wear and now I don't even know if I should be wearing it.”

“I feel so sick, and terrified, and outraged, and so so tired”

“I just feel so angry and terrified and lost and helpless”

“I feel so heartbroken and powerless and angry.”

“At my school people make gay jokes everyday, I don’t understand why they hate us”

“None of my friends know I’m gay, I’m so scared of losing them, I don’t know if I can tell them.”

I want you to think about that last one.  Someone who is gay, but is scared to tell their friends because they don’t know what will happen when they do.

You are all talented and intelligent young women.  You have power, influence and opportunity to do something.  In this school you can create a joyous, inclusive, positive community with no tolerance for prejudice.  You can continue this legacy of positivity with you to your work, your universities, and the rest of your lives.

You can be that person that your friend comes to… because they know you are kind and compassionate and trustworthy and safe.

And they’ll know this because they see you.  They see you telling people that using gay as an insult isn’t acceptable here.  They see you when you speak up for people who are bullied for their sexuality.  They see you when you invite speakers like me in to talk about the LGBT community.  They see you when you help organise a school LGBT History Month.  They see you when you choose an LGBT charity for your form fundraiser.

And I hope- and I want you to hear this, look into yourself, and believe it- I hope that maybe they’ll see it in ten minutes time, when you leave this hall.  And you turn to your friends and tell them “If any of you came out to me, I want you to know.  You can trust me. I won’t tell anyone. And I will always be your friend.”

Thank you.