My life has changed in a bevy of ways since losing my friend Christopher Andrew Leinonen at the Pulse shooting. Instead of folding inward, like a lot of our friends did, I pushed myself to turn my anguish into action and work hard to honor his memory. Some friends and I launched The Dru Project — a nonprofit dedicated to expanding gay-straight alliances in Florida. I started working at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, to fully immerse myself in protecting the country’s most vulnerable people from hate. And, of course, I became a fellow for Everytown.
While this work has been eye-opening and healing in so many ways, sitting in the trenches of secondhand trauma day in and day out has taken a toll on my mental health. I am finally taking a step back to try to work through some of my own pain from Pulse. While I don’t like calling myself a survivor because I have friends who literally survived the shooting, I know the ripple effect that is launched from shootings like Pulse. People are affected each and every day in ways that they sometimes don’t even realize. We are turning into a nation of secondhand pain because pretty soon, everyone will know someone who was shot. I only hope my story helps people find relief in the fact that they aren’t alone and motivates them to become involved.