Lance Heisler

In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Justin Torres for The Washington Post wrote “In praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club,” a tribute I shared among friends, many who identify with a letter in the LGBTQAlphabet, and many who don’t. The outpouring of support and the unity that followed that brutal attack on our family revealed the tremendous love and hope in the world.

Through tears shed celebrating the lives of our queer brothers and sisters whose dancing was cut short, Torres’ article also served as an homage to the fierce solidarity of the gay community. From bear bars to PFLAG groups, we’re all searching for our place among those who love and accept us. The author’s words wrestled out my own pride as a gay man and the feeling of that first time standing in a pulsating gay nightclub, lights flashing, the bass of the techno music sending electric currents from my feet through my chest. It was an explosive mixture of angst and excitement to find such instant connection with a group of beautiful strangers, each with their own unique story. The combination of smeared eyeliner, salacious dancing, pumping music and muscled men felt so liberating and incredible. It was a home filled with family inviting me to come dance.

In a few paragraphs, Torres honored the lives of 49 souls taken too soon, and captured for his readers that incredibly personal and private moment when you realize you’ve found acceptance—and you breathe a sigh of relief, forget your fears and just dance, whether it’s on a literal or figurative dance floor. Every person, no matter their sexual identity, deserves to experience that feeling of empowerment.

One year later the article resurfaced in my social media feeds, as relevant as ever, raising serious questions surrounding homophobia, bigotry, and gun rights—but also inspiring love and hope and acceptance. Again, memories of my own journey to self-acceptance and every family member who supported me along the way came flooding back, illustrating the incredible power of words and storytelling.

As professional communicators, every day we challenge ourselves to speak to different people who have their own equally complex stories to tell. We challenge ourselves to walk in their shoes, whether they’re muddied work boots or four-inch platform heels, to help promote messages, ideas or products. And at times we’re privileged and faced with an enormous responsibility to provide a voice for those who are unable to articulate their words, or who may be silenced altogether, in hopes of creating positive change and progress in our world.

Through communication and storytelling, we can build more than a successful advertising or PR campaign—we can better understand the people alongside of us in everyday life. That knowledge inspires me to keep writing.

Our day-to-day struggles are real, and at times utterly defeating, but during Pride we should all make time to tell our stories, to embrace our differences, and to dance.