Our hearts are broken and spirits shaken by the devastating mass shooting in Orlando Sunday morning. Our thoughts and prayer go out to the families and friends of the victims, to those still fighting for their lives in hospitals, and to the entire LGBTQI community. We stand in solidarity during this period of grief and of healing. 

This shooting is a painful reminder of the persistent threat of violence that members of the LGBTQI community live with each day. And that the shooting occurred during Latino Night is a reminder of the compounding oppression and threat of violence facing Latinxs and people of color. Here in Tennessee and across the country, LGBTQI people are targets of the highest rates of hate violence, especially trans women of color.

This climate of bigotry and fear towards LGBTQI communities has been fueled by rhetoric in the presidential election and in state legislatures across the country. Here in Tennessee, lawmakers spent the better part of the 2016 legislative session debating policies that marginalized and dehumanized LGBTQI communities. Everyone, especially elected officials, must understand the consequences of their words and be held accountable for the climate they create.

The same is true for the dangerous anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, and anti Muslim policies and rhetoric that have dominated this year, threatening our members' sense of safety. This mainstreaming of bigoted rhetoric and the institutionalizing of discrimination can incite xenophobic and homophobic acts of violence. Many are already trying to scapegoat Muslim communities and use this tragedy to fuel their ongoing campaigns to limit immigration and refugee resettlement and to curtail religious freedom

 We must combat with vigilance these efforts to be divided, and not respond to hate with hate. There will continue to be attempts to pit communities against one another. We must do the hard work of confronting and dismantling systems of oppression and division, and the cultures of homophobia, transphobia, racism and Islamophobia in our society. We cannot let where we are from, who we love, or how me worship divide us. 

In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, throughout the month of Ramadan and of Pride, and for the months to come, we will celebrate the dignity and beauty in our communities and recommit ourselves to the critical work of dismantling the deep roots of hatred and bigotry. Let us all continue to build a Tennessee and country where the human rights and dignity of all people are respected, diversity is welcomed and valued, and people are free from discrimination and oppression.