Not Just Mourners

Last summer, there was terrible violence in South Carolina. 9 individuals, 9 black Americans, were shot dead by a deranged terrorist in their church. There was outcry. Preachers and leaders promised change - or, at least, held up the communities of concern that formed out of pain.

Now, a year later, across the country there are communities of concern that have gathered in response to pain. This time, 49 individuals, LGBT Americans, many Latino, were shot dead by a deranged terrorist in an LGBT Club. 49 murdered, 53 wounded. 

Just a few days ago, here in Oakland, a young girl was shot dead after leaving a funeral. 

What do we do in response to these murders? What does our movement, religious and secular, do in response?

Some people, when pain happens, need to be alone, or with one person. 

When I heard the news, I craved community. I wanted to be around others, I wanted to see and contribute and be with other people trying to do something- even if initially it was only a witness. 

I went to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco. Honestly, I had no idea how many people would be there. There were thousands. Thousands of people- gay, straight, young, old, atheists, doubters, and believers- who stood for love. 

There was a common thread and that was to, "Remember the dead, and fight for the living." Or, as one participant shouted, "Out of the apartments, and into the streets!" 

In words, however inadequate, with humor, with song, with tears, people shouted, cried, argued, laughed, danced, and marched in testament and practice to a better way of living. 

The too long history of violence against LGBT people - even in San Francisco - was called up - from the burning of the pioneering LGBT proud Metropolitan Church in the 1970s, to City Supervisor Harvey Milk's assassination, to the AIDS epidemic and public health neglect, from the successful battles for legal recognition and the struggles of homelessness today, San Francisco gathered to witness.

Tom Ammiano, a legendary San Francisco progressive and the first openly gay teacher in the city spoke to the crowd. He said, roughly, “I am old and full of gay blood, but we are going to fight back...This started over a kiss, a beautiful, beautiful kiss. I'm done with lasiezz faire homophobia- the "It's fine if you're gay, but I don't want to see you..." Forget that! We need to do better - today." To make his point, Ammiano kissed Mayor Ed Lee. 

As people of goodwill, we have to ask ourselves, what can our communities do, here and now, to support and grow and create caring, welcoming spaces- and to push for changes that will help more people heal, and that fosters a bigger, inclusive civic community. 

A friend wrote, "I find it sad that it seems always to take massive visible death to elicit somewhat political responses from groups filled with conscious well meaning people.  Non profit status should not so hamper responsible action."

We are part of gathered communities, religious and secular. What can we do to be more intentional with how we already use our resources and time to foster the world we want to see? What can our movements do to make ourselves not just mourners, but participants in building something better? 


Daniel Braga-Lawlor
Berkeley, CA


Daniel Braga-Lawlor is a proud Rhode Island ex-pat, and is in love with Northern California. Past President of Bell Street Chapel, a small and mighty Unitarian Universalist congregation in the West End of Providence, RI, Daniel is active with Sunday Assembly East Bay (Berkeley-Oakland area). Collaborative, engaged communities energize and inspire Daniel.