My high school was protested by the Westboro Baptist church. I learned this my senior year. My school has a fantastic fine and performing arts program, one that draws students from all over the county, and since it’s a well-known fact that art makes kids gay, the WBC protested a program that encourages creation and beauty because their idea of beauty is narrow and close minded. They eventually packed their bags and went home, having failed to make any lasting damage. Heck, I take pride in the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church protested. My school lived on and grew to have a vibrant gay community, one that felt safe reveling in their sexuality, gender identity and the freedom in accepting that they are different. Sure, there were homophobes—there always are—but my friends and I feel safe walking the halls. We feel safe loudly proclaiming how gay we were in our art classes and, in one memorable instant, one girl asked another to prom via short story during creative writing class. The principal is nothing but supportive of us. She attends GSA meetings and even brings the snacks.
At a school like that, it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be to be LGBTQ+. How coming out can get you kicked out of the house, abused or killed. I guess that’s why the Pulse shooting hit me so hard. It was a shattering of that sense of safety that I had. At the same time though, my grief was mixed with guilt, because I knew that whatever I was feeling was magnified exponentially by those less lucky than me. I have support at home. I’m white and middle class. I know that my family loves me no matter what. It almost didn’t feel like it was my place to grieve. My heart broke for the families of the victims—both blood relatives and adopted—and for those who had to grieve in silence out of fear for their lives.
It hit the rest of the community hard. Less than a year before, the right to marry no matter the gender was won. And then, it suffered a horrific loss. Forty-nine dead in one of the few places where they felt they were safe. A stark reminder that no matter how far we’ve progressed there is still so much hate and vitriol directed toward the community.
Love is Love is an emotional gut-punch of an anthology that explores not just the pain of the loss of forty-nine people, but a reminder of people’s resilience. It is all at once a celebration of the strength and vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ community and cathartic way to process the grief still felt to this day. The stories inside range from funny to sweet to heartbreaking to defiant and profound. Some writers chose to tell of their own experiences in the community, either as members or as an outsider whose viewpoints grew and changed. Their experiences were relatable and comforting. The straight writers telling their stories proved that people change and that the community was not alone. The LGBT+ writers remind us that things get better. Their stories, for better or worse, are what people go through and, in the end, love still wins, be it platonic, or romantic.
Some told stories of fictional characters that convey very real grief, from superheroes to original characters. Sometimes, it’s easier to view the horrors of the world from a fictional lens and it can be a comfort to see the characters you love and admire grieving the way that you are. I’m generally leery of placing the fictional characters at the scene of a real-life tragedy. It can easily go wrong. For the most part though, it’s respectful and well done in Love is Love. I especially appreciated the appearance of Extraño, the first openly gay superhero, and his frank assessment of the way he way portrayed in the eighties; even if it was well meaning.
Others explored the institutional bigotry in this country and the seeds of hope taking root among the pain of loss. As Justin Hall points out in his comic, the difference between this tragedy and others suffered by the community is that this time; there was an outpouring of grief. Unlike before, the dead weren’t buried in unmarked graves. Of course, many were celebrating this as gays getting what they deserve for acting like “abominations”, but just as many were horrified. Just as many donated to LGBT+ causes or filled the sidewalks as they waited to donate blood or sent their own personal messages of grief and compassion. This time, the community didn’t grieve for its dead alone.
The anthology also contains gorgeous art in and between the comics. Some chose poems to combine with words and some simply added art for the sake of art. And in a world of so much ugliness, sometimes we just need beauty in and of itself. The styles, mediums and stories are nearly as diverse as the community it tries to encompass.
Love is Love is an inspiring, heart-breaking, defiant, at times funny and all around moving tribute the victims of Pulse. The stories inside will make you laugh, cry and act as a reminder of the strength of the LGBT+ community which survived AIDs, arson, systemic oppression, mass shootings and will continue to survive against the forces of bigotry. All proceeds from this comic go to the victims, survivors and their families, so I highly recommend it for that reason alone. It’s a lovely anthology with a beautiful message of compassion and peace. In times like these, when the world seems to be getting darker and darker, we all need more beauty like this.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play.
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers.
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside.
— Lin Manuel Miranda