How do we even begin to grieve? Typically in times of crisis, mourning, loss, or great tragedy, we gather together with family, in community to honor the memory of those we’ve lost, to comfort one another, and simply embrace each other. We can’t do that yet. Even at Pride we come together in moments of loss or crisis, whether it was marching to City Hall to honor those lost to the AIDS crisis, or marching at the Pride Parade holding the names, faces, and images of the 49 lives lost in the Pulse Nightclub massacre. It is in community we heal and find our resilience. We aren’t fully able to do that yet.
For one year we have witnessed friends, family, loved ones, coworkers, and community members bear their grief online, at a distance. Our own sadness remaining unlifted. Our own desire to help others heal stymied by the necessities of our time. We can feel so helpless, unable to hug, hold, and engage in our normal rituals to release our pain, let them go and honor their memories.
The United States alone has lost over 530,000 people in the last year to COVID-19. I think I’ve wept more times in the last year than any other year in my life. The research shows us what many of us already knew, LGBTQ people of color are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than our white heterosexual siblings. Not because there is anything wrong with us, but because the pandemic has highlighted the systemic social and economic impacts that lead to health disparity within marginalized communities.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only way we lost people in the last year. Leaving far too many of us tethered to our shared disconnection from our grieving process. We ask ourselves, how do we move forward?
One of my early and more cherished mentors was Aida Mancillas. A lesbian, Latina, activist and artist who took me under her wing 18 years ago. She once said to me, “You want to change the world, but the thing is you can’t. What you can do is tend to your garden and teach others to do the same. That is how you change the world.” There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t think of her words. We lost her twelve years ago. She was only 55.
In this last year we’ve lost people like Christopher Sheehan who helped to found the LGBTQ Survivors Task Force, Larry T. Baza who helped build San Diego Pride into the LGBTQ arts and culture beacon that it is today, and just this week Irene Meza-Herrig who built a community of empowered LGBTQ women and each year brought the roaring strength of hundreds of LGBTQ women to sound off the start of our Parade.
All of their legacies will live on with us. Everything they’ve taught us. Every person they have healed, empowered, guided, mentored, and helped to feel liberated in themselves. Each of us and our community are stronger and more connected because of their vision and stewardship. They and the many that we’ve lost in the last year built in us the best parts of ourselves. That part of them in each of us never leaves. We now wait and hope to all be physically reunited to grieve and mourn and smile and uncover joy again. Until that day and long after we will remain grateful that they tended to their garden, taught us to do the same, and made us all Resilient.
Fernando Zweifach López Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs Executive Director San Diego Pride
Fernando Lopez is the Executive Director of San Diego Pride. Lopez’s years of LGBT advocacy, nonprofit management, public education, diversity consulting, media relations, guest lectures, and organizing have made them a consistent presence ensuring the struggles of the LGBT community are ever visible.