In the spring of 2016, I had been working for CTV Vancouver Island in the newsroom for a few years. When you are exposed to tragic or depressing news stories daily – mass shootings, bombings, racism, hate crimes against gays and other minority groups – you can, unfortunately, become oversaturated, maybe even a little numb. Even stories of politicians attempting to take away the hard-fought rights that the LGBTQ+ community had become so common that it became less and less clear which direction I should focus my attention.

But then on June 12, Orlando happened.

Overnight the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting changed everything for me. I felt connected to my community like never before, and I needed to do something! I spoke to my friends. We shared stories of how we felt, and shared the anguish in our hearts. Everywhere I looked online, on TV and in print, there was a story on the shooting and its victims. In cities across the USA and the world, gatherings and vigils were being held to commemorate the victims and to show solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community.

What hit home the hardest for me, and for everyone I talked to, was that it could just as easily have been me and my friends in that nightclub. I couldn’t help but remember the countless evenings me and my friends would head out for a night at the bar – to let loose, to celebrate events, to meet new people. There was a time when a gay bar was one of the few safe places we could go to be ourselves. Gay bars were the only place to go and not have to be afraid that someone might push you around for looking at them the wrong way or making eye contact. For many of us gay bars were more than just a place to party. Gay bars were home. For me, this was the tragedy. Suddenly somewhere I had considered a safe place was no longer safe. A deranged individual, took all that away.

In my heart, all I could think was who were these people and their families. So much attention was paid to the shooter – who he was and what made him commit such a heinous act of hate. But I wanted to know about the people whose lives were lost. The people whose stories were ended with the pull of a trigger by a madman. I was devastated by the fact that no one would ever get to meet them for the first time, and get to know them. I was devastated that they would never get to tell their stories.

It was my horror, my outrage, and my grief that was the genesis of this project. I realized that I wanted to create something that would enable my community to tell our stories in a place that was safe, especially now that that our one safe sanctuary had been violated in such a horrific way. Living Without Disguises came to be because I wanted in someway to bring our community together, and make sure that each and every one of us got a chance to tell our stories, so that we would never be forgotten in the event that something so unspeakable would happen to us. I was motivated to tell my story, and I hoped that others would come forward and tell theirs.

If you feel compelled to add your story to our anthology, please do.