I nearly didn’t go. My mind was filled with anxiety, going straight to the worst possible scenarios – which, after the events of Sunday morning, seem closer than ever. But I saw on Facebook that some of my friends would be there, so I decided to go. I knew I would feel safer around them.
The vigil lasted for more than three hours, during which we heard from numerous leaders in the LGBTQ+ community. People spoke and sang and cried and screamed. I saw people of all different sexual orientations and gender identities. I saw middle school students and retired university professors. I saw friends from all over Iowa City, and until that moment I don’t think I had quite realized just how many LGBTQ+ friends I have – from classes, from the dorms, from last summer’s college orientation program, from businesses around town.
A girl I met at MBLGTACC, who lives several towns around, made the drive over here. Within those three hours, Muslims and Jewish people and a clergyman spoke. We heard from a teacher who told us that three of her four kids were LGBTQ+, and another teacher who is afraid to come out at work because she knows she’ll get fired.
I thought about going up to the front to speak but I didn’t because I knew there were too many thoughts that I still needed to sort out, and besides, I’ve always been better at writing words than at speaking them. It wasn’t a particularly physically taxing event – I spent those hours sitting, standing, and burning myself with hot candle wax on accident – but it was emotionally exhausting. When I went home that night, I slept better than I have in the past few months.
Being at the vigil was odd: On one hand, part of me didn’t want to be there, especially at the beginning, because I was scared. I’ve been foolish enough to think that I would always feel safe here in this relatively small town, but I can’t.
Earlier that day, someone was walking around downtown saying that the victims deserved what they got, and another function of this vigil was to mourn the recent suicide of one of the members of Iowa City’s LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t know her, but a lot of people clearly did. I went from walking around Iowa City feeling more positive about my identity than I ever had before and feeling that I could be open with anyone to not wanting to leave my dorm room last night.
On the other hand, it felt so good to be around so many people like me. It’s strange to think that on Saturday I was so excited to be around so many other LGBTQ+ people at a reading at Prairie Lights, one of the local bookstores, and that just days later we met not out of happiness but out of sorrow.
It felt good to be around my people. I’ve been foolish enough to start taking that for granted because this place is so different from my hometown that I thought nobody could be hurt here. And now I shouldn’t – and can’t – feel that way.
I saw people I hadn’t seen in months and realized how much I missed them, and made plans to spend time with people this summer, and remembered how much I love our community – not just the one in Iowa City, but the LGBTQ+ community in general. It’s the only place I’ve ever felt completely welcome. Even as I was afraid of being there, I also felt that I had to be there because it was good for me. I think other LGBTQ+ people will understand the conflict I felt when those two emotions of fear and love meshed together. All those people who mean so much to me, all that happiness, can be taken away so easily.
At the end of this post is a list of resources that I compiled because they have helped me these past few days and I thought they may help you. You’re always welcome to talk to me, and I hope everything goes well as possible in your life and in your friends’ lives these next few days and weeks and months. I’d love to hear if anyone else attended a vigil or protest or similar event and what their thoughts are on that, if they’re willing to share.
Photo credit goes to my friend Elin Dejus.
- Ways to help: (x) (x) (x) (x)
- Donate to support the victims & their families on GoFundMe: (x) (x)
- How to cope: (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x)
- Masterposts of happy LGBTQ+ media: (x) (x) (x)
- Masterpost of miscellaneous comforting things: (x)
- Images & videos of vigils, speeches, memorials, marches, et cetera: (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x)
- Advice: (x) (x) (x) (x) (x)
- Positivity: (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x) (x)