Meeting God Wherever She Is: The Pulse Orlando Shooting and Creating Sacred Spaces

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by Erica Thurman 

Auntie, I know you’ll probably think this is the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever written but the fact is that I met God the other day. She actually does wear an afro. Turns out sometimes she wears a blonde weave. And probably does a mean duck walk. I can just tell. She was every shade of brown, reveled in her thickness and even though she didn’t have cause to show it off that night, I just know she got a side-eye that rivals Prince’s. Or my momma’s. Thing is, I didn’t go there looking for her. I’d always been told you go to church for that. But right there in the middle of the Formation world tour, I was surrounded by unconditional non-judgmental peaceful love. That’s God, right?

I walked into that concert and suddenly I was engulfed by thousands of Black women (and men) admiring, complimenting and just loving up on complete strangers who weren't really strangers at all because our spirits have known so much of the same pain. So we knew one another without ever having met. We loved each other without ever having crossed paths before. We danced. We sang. We laughed. Some of us cried. I was safe there among them. Safe in the vulnerability of navigating this country as a multiple-othered being. No guards up. No microaggressions. No justifying how we performed our identities. No respectability politics. I was free to be me in all of my Blackness and womanhood, ratchet girl and scholar. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. With the love that I felt in that place, I said to my friend, "God is in this place." It was a sanctuary far away from the dangers and stress of living life at the intersection. We were free to just be. I’m not even sure I realized how much I needed that space until I was there. You should have seen us…loving like Celie and living like Shug. And just like Shug, we took it to church in that stadium. I even sat next to a woman named Joy. That couldn’t have been a coincidence. You should have seen thousands of Black women shouting to “Daddy Lessons.”

I imagine Pulse must have been like that for so many people whose identities meant that their very existence would be threatened daily. In one of the few places where members of the LGBTQIA+ community could just be...And love. And dance. And sing. And laugh. Someone dared to invade that space with hatred. My heart aches. Evil and oppression will not win. I’ve always thought I was more Malcolm than I was Martin. But somewhere in the middle of a Beyoncé concert, I understood what Martin meant. That love that I felt in the middle of that stadium is motivation to keep fighting. That love and the right to express it is the goal. That love is why we can't lose. That love is what 49 people went to Pulse to experience that night. Some of them had likely been there before. Some of them may have found it for the first time that night.

That love is why I must be clear on where I stand, even though I know you might not agree, Auntie. There is no liberation if my Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters are not free to love and live. Truth is I’m still learning how to support them and in learning I thought it best to be quiet. But Preston has shown me that silence is violence. I cannot be complicit in the deaths of my brothers and sisters. And if you had been there, and felt what I felt at that concert, what I know they must have felt at Pulse— the presence of God in that space of freedom and love and safety— I think you would agree with the way Jeremy put it, “This was not a club shooting, it was a massacre within a church.” It was a heinous invasion of a sanctuary that multiple-othered folks had created for themselves in a world that told them every day that they didn't deserve life or God's love. They needed that space to survive. And that sounds all too familiar. I know that need and and I know the pain that makes it necessary. I would be more than remiss to remain silent, I would be culpable. To the LGBTQIA+ folks in my life, know that I love you and stand with you in unequivocally denouncing the hatred that took the lives, and hearts and souls of 49 people that night.

Photo: iStockPhoto

Erica Thurman is a writer, speaker and consultant with a focus on inclusion, intersectional and issues that impact the lives of Black girls and women. More of her work can be found at

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