Two men embrace during a vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro on Sunday to honor the victims of a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Two men embrace during a vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro on Sunday to honor the victims of a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

No such thing as strangers

People streamed into the Castro from every possible direction. It was as if all roads lead to Harvey Milk Plaza. We’d been in this same spot countless times before, surrounded by many of the same people, but always in celebration. We’d danced and hugged during Pride. We’d danced and hugged when the Supreme Court granted marriage equality. And now we hugged and leaned on each other and cried for the 49 people who’d been murdered the day before in Orlando.

Walking into the gathering, a young woman going the opposite direction lit up when she saw me. “Hey! I voted for you for mayor. I’m Stefanie. I love what you do.”

I smiled and thanked her and then went into the crowd, preparing myself for the coming speeches. A few minutes later, she came up to me and said, “I can’t find my friends, do you mind if I stand here with you?”

We were all there — queer and straight — because we needed to be. We needed to be surrounded by our community, by our San Francisco family, by people who felt what we were feeling. And Stefanie seemed like she needed to be there as much as anyone.

“Someone I know died in Orlando,” she told me. Stefanie went on to explain how she’d come out of the closet a couple years ago and moved to San Francisco. “I came here because it’s the place where I’m free to be me,” she said

Supervisors Scott Weiner and David Campos spoke, as did Tom Ammiano, Sister Roma, Mark Leno and so many other of our queer leaders. The speeches were powerful, full of love and sadness, but each of them was also filled with the determination to fight even harder in the struggle for equality.

I looked over at Stefanie. She was shivering, and tears were running down her face. Even though I’d just met her, I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her until the sobbing stopped. Then I lent her my coat.

We couldn’t have been the only strangers there holding each other; everyone was engaged in some sort of embrace. From full-on hugs to arms around each others’ necks, we were all there on Castro Street for each other, because we needed someone to be there for us.

I’m not gay, so I’ll never know what it’s like to be hated and persecuted simply because of who I kiss or hold hands with or sleep with or love. But so many of the people that I love do know what it’s like. From my brother to my cousins to my friends to my co-workers, so many of the people who fill my heart are queer. I’ve been an ally for as long as I can remember. I often joke that I’m culturally gay, but not practicing.

So I was out there on Castro Street because, even though I’m not gay, this is still my community. It’s the duty of those who have the privilege of not being persecuted to stand with and stick up for those who don’t. And that night, there were probably thousands of straight people who felt the same way and were there in solidarity with the queer people they love.

As Stefanie and I marched with the rest of the crowd down Market Street toward City Hall, we hit the crest of a hill and saw for the first time how many of us there were. Thousands upon thousands of people marched ahead of us with candles and cellphones illuminating the path. And there were just as many behind us.

It was then I knew we’d be OK, because there’s just not enough hatred in the world to kill this many people full of love.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.Broke Ass CityBroke-Ass StuartCastroDavid CamposHarvey Milk PlazaLGBTOrlandoSan FranciscoStuart Schuffman

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