Letter from the Editor

I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July weekend and holiday. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Highland Park, Illinois, Philadelphia, and eight other locations, as there have been at least ten mass shootings in the United States since July 1. Celebrating America with family and friends while enjoying favorite summertime foods and fireworks is a national tradition. It’s a tradition that many look forward to.

There’s no ignoring the partisan divisiveness that’s become de rigueur today.  On July 1, the City of Orlando included the following invitation to the city’s fireworks show in its emailed newsletter:

A lot of people probably don’t want to celebrate our nation right now, and we can’t blame them. When there’s so much division, hate and unrest, why on earth would you want to have a party celebrating any of it.

But in all seriousness, you know in your heart, Fourth of July fireworks are amazing, especially when you are standing in 90° heat, 100% humidity, next to 100,000 of your closest friends. In that moment, something takes over and we all become united in an inexplicable bond. Yes, America is in strife right now, but you know what . . . we already bought the fireworks.

Like clockwork, there were calls for the Mayor to apologize, assertions that the post was inappropriate for city communications, the notice was sent out by a raging leftist, and more.

Was the invite’s wording cheeky? Yes. It poked fun at gathering outdoors with far more people than expected in subtropical Florida’s heat and humidity—a common experience for Central Floridians or anyone who’s spent time at any of our world-class theme parks during the summer.

But I don’t think that’s what people took issue with.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say people bristled because the communiqué acknowledged that some people did not feel up to celebrating our nation. The city’s announcement was neither a partisan statement nor did it assign guilt. But it did identify, in very broad terms, issues we as a nation are dealing with; specifically division, hate, and unrest.

To acknowledge that the United States of America is not perfect, does not negate one’s love for her.

I don’t think anyone can deny that America is more deeply divided now on more topics than at any other point in our lives. The presence of Neo-Nazis marching proudly through the streets of America attests to emboldened hate that should send chills down every veteran’s spine. Mind you, these guys hold the same anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and racist views America’s Greatest Generation fought and defeated in World War II. To deny there is societal unrest in the United States in 2022 is to deny the reality in which we live.

The truth of the matter is these issues exist. And so do many others. This has always been the case as America is constantly growing and striving to become a more perfect union, sometimes in great strides forward, other times we take regrettable steps back. To acknowledge that the United States is not perfect, does not negate one’s love for her. It shows where we as a national collective have the opportunity and need to shore up our efforts for the betterment of all Americans and the nation as a whole.

. . . to take umbrage that a cheeky city communiqué would stoop so low as to acknowledge the suffering of “others” is selfish and devoid of empathy.

To acknowledge that Orlando has a housing crisis evidenced by increasing numbers of homeless men, women, and children, does not negate a love for the city. To acknowledge that many in Orlando grieve over the loss of loved ones to Covid, natural causes, or are still raw about the sixth commemoration of a loved one’s death in the Pulse massacre does not call for acts of retribution against the city. To acknowledge that many in Orlando are still without jobs or are underemployed does not mean Central Florida should be burned to the ground. And to acknowledge that minority districts in the city have been stripped of historic Congressional representation does not cue the disenfranchised to overthrow the government.

But to take umbrage that a cheeky city communiqué would stoop so low as to acknowledge the suffering of “others” is selfish and devoid of empathy. That a select number of people I know, love, respect, have broken bread with, mourned with, and prayed for in their time of need are now without the charity and grace Christ commands is immensely disappointing. If the phrase “a lot of people probably don’t want to celebrate” doesn’t apply to you, do yourself a favor and forego shoehorning your ego into the conversation. Because simply put, this time it’s not always about you.

A foundational truth—and strength—of the United States is that it is, like it or not, a melting pot, a conglomerate of people from around the world seeking to better their station by pursuing the American dream. Whether one’s ancestors were brought here by force (as was the case with enslaved Black Americans) or by choice via immigration, all peoples have contributed mightily to advancing this nation where the promise of opportunity is the coin of the realm. But the other side of this coin is that all Americans do not experience America the same way. That is to say, not everyone has equal access to opportunity.

None of us experience this country the same way.

Do not be deceived. Racism, bigotry, misogyny, and a host of other –isms and –ies exist. And while they may not impact your life directly, they have a profound effect on the lives of others. Let’s have a coffee sometime and I’ll share anecdotes of my own experience with being denied opportunities due to my race (Black) or height (forty-eight inches). Again, pointing out that these inequities exist does not mean that I loathe America or you because you don’t face the same challenges I do. It does mean that the processes and means that support that discrimination should be dismantled.

If you’re still with me, it comes down to this. A statement acknowledging the suffering of others does not denigrate your love of law enforcement, your military service, your love of country, or you. Put on your big boy/girl pants and understand that empathy and compassion are not radical leftist ideals nor are they uniquely Christian ideals, they are human ideals common to mankind for thousands of years.

None of us experience this country the same way. Because you haven’t experienced a particular injustice is no indication that it doesn’t exist. Be outraged that people suffer indignities at the hands of others, not that they cry out for justice.

Love one another.

Clay Rivers
OHF Weekly Editor-in-Chief


The Mayor of the Magic Kingdom

By Clay Rivers

I will always remember my friend with red hair—not because of his red hair, or because he could be the most infuriating person I ever knew at times, or even because he was the first gay activist I ever knew; but because he is part of the reason I’m a whole person.

Cinderella Castle, WDW Magic Kingdom. ©Disney

Harry P. Leu Gardens, 2019.

The group cleared a path down the center of the ballroom for the guest of honor and his court to make their grand entrance. Members of the Orlando Gay Chorus occupied half the room donning rainbows, kilts, accompanied by a requisite drag queen or two. And across the center aisle, equally as festive, current and former pixie-dusted Disney entertainment employees mingled in wait. The line of demarcation was much less Jets versus Sharks in nature and more a function of an eclectic mix of people cut from a wide swath of humanity preparing for the unexpected.

The occasion: a quinceañera to laud our friend Joel, born February 29, 1960, which gave him the designation of a leap year baby and marked his next birthday his sixtieth or fifteenth, depending on how you did the math. When we added to the mix that Joel was under hospice care, the need to celebrate his birthday a few months early and make it a celebration of life and quinceañera mash-up became apparent to all. With his mother and brothers Ted, Franz, and Jaiden already in town, a team of at least thirty close friends put together a party unlike any seen before or ever would again.

Joel Strack had been a fixture in the Orlando LGBTQ community since before there was an organized LGBTQ community. He was an advocate for gay rights in Orlando whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself—and sometimes when it didn’t—long before advocacy was a thing. He pushed for the inclusion of gay men and women by simply being visible and vocal. (I write “gay men and women” not to be exclusive, but as a nod to his championing that began in the early 1980s, long before the use of the LGBT initialism or the addition of “Q,” “I,” or “A.”) Read the full story.


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