It feels like almost every week we hear of yet another mass shooting in the US. Last weekend was no different when we woke up on Sunday morning to hear of the attack and hostage taking in Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people lost their lives and 53 others were wounded. Except this time it was different because Pulse had a primarily gay clientele and was seen as a refuge for gay members of the Latinx community. Right now it feels impossible to feel anything other than deep sadness for the victims of this attack, but also for the larger LGBTQ2 community, who already may not feel safe, welcome, or included in their home communities.
In 2014, I was commissioned by the Kokopelli Choir Association in Edmonton to write a song in support of Scott Jones, a musician and choral conductor my own age who survived a senseless and violent attack that left him in a wheelchair. In response to this attack, Scott started Don’t Be Afraid, an awareness campaign against homophobia and transphobia, which has already reached an incredible amount of people from all over the world.
In the days following the Orlando shooting, Scott had this to say: “Every time I transfer in and out of my wheelchair, every time I catheterize, every time I dress myself, every time I use my shower chair, every time I wheel myself around town, I think about how my life is different because of the silence- because of the lack of conversation that preceded my attack. I remember feeling hopeful after my attack, because the wider community was finally having a conversation about homophobia in small town Nova Scotia. The community support was incredible. But over time, the conversation with the wider community died down. Let's not let the conversation die down this time!”
Since writing the song, also called “Don’t Be Afraid” (arr. Jen McMillan), it has been performed by choirs from the Maritimes to BC and all the way down to Texas, been purchased by over 450 choirs around the world, and most recently was performed by students of Canterbury High School in Ottawa in support of the victims of the Orlando shooting.
In any time of change in your life, hasn't there always been music? Any joy, celebration, or time of sadness, it feels like music is something that we turn to to express our feelings or to find some sort of healing or hope. Music is a powerful way to send messages of acceptance, support, and love to our friends in the larger LGBTQ2 community and I hope the words of this song help to bring comfort and peace to those who are suffering right now.