Cory James Connell
Cory James Connell was celebrating his 21st birthday with his girlfriend at the Pulse nightclub when his life was extinguished in a spray of bullets. A star athlete, Cory was chasing his lifelong dream of helping others as a firefighter. His final act on this earth was protecting his girlfriend, Paula from the gunman - she was gravely injured but her life was preserved by Cory's act of bravery. Known for his charisma and welcoming smile, Cory was was a friend to all who knew him. The impact he had on his community was so immense that the City of Orlando posthumously made him an honorary firefighter and the Orlando Gay Chorus sang for his funeral.
Cory, was, perhaps notably, straight and the fact that a popular football player such as himself had no problem hanging out at a gay club speaks volumes to how far our our society has come in terms of LGBT acceptance. Unfortunately we have not come far enough and violent acts fueled by homophobia continue to plague the community. Young people who come out to their families are still told "it's just a stage," transgendered individuals face scrutiny every time they need to pee, and closeted, angry individuals take out their rage on innocent people because they live in an environment where it impossible to embrace their own identity.
As a straight woman, I had my reservations about starting this project. Primarily, I was afraid of somehow co-opting the grief of the LGBT community. Then I realized, this isn't a "gay tragedy" - its a human one. Our entire population should be grieving the fact that 49 souls no longer walk this earth. That it hit a community so historically marked by adversity makes it all the more heart-wrenching.
Today, in honor of Cory, I am celebrating alliance. To my friends in the LGBT community: I love you, I accept you, I am honored to stand by you. I encourage others to do the same - reach out and show your support and mean it. Only when we treat everyone with dignity will we be able to move forward in harmony.