When I think of getting closer to my little cousin Akyra, I think of sharing new experiences, secrets, and aspirations; not hiding from an active shooter in a nightclub bathroom stall. Two years ago, on June 12, we were celebrating — my little cousin Akyra had just graduated from West Catholic Prep, third in her class. She was set to attend Mercyhurst University in the fall on a basketball scholarship. But that night, our celebration turned into a nightmare when Akyra, 20 strangers, and I got as close as possible in a tiny bathroom stall and prayed that our lives would not be taken.
I was shot, not only in my side, but I also sustained a grazed hip, burned back, and injuries to my right arm and legs. I was lucky — not everyone was fortunate enough to live. My cousin, Akyra Murray, was shot and murdered in the second deadliest mass shooting in American history. I watched Akyra as she bled out while I tried to save her life by putting my weight on her wounds to stop the endless bleeding.
The Pulse nightclub shooting happened two years ago, when a man walked into Pulse nightclub armed with a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol and opened fire in the crowded nightclub, murdering 49 and wounding 53 others, including myself. While I was hiding to save my life, I was also lying in other people’s blood and body fragments — blood and fragments of mothers, sons, cousins, fathers and daughters. The shooter brutally took the lives of people who were deeply loved, including my cousin Akyra — a young, beautiful and talented woman who had her whole life ahead of her.
The Pulse murderer carried out this atrocity with an assault weapon and large-capacity magazines, weapons that are too easily accessible to people in this country. Despite the overwhelming majority of Americans favoring a ban on both of these military-grade weapons, Congress and Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country refuse to address these concerns because it would mean forfeiting their NRA blood money. This needs to change.
That’s why I joined Pride Fund to End Gun Violence as a member of the Board of Advisors. Everyone can make a difference, and I’ve chosen to take my anger, my frustration, my pain and dedicate it to changing our country’s inadequate gun laws through political advocacy.
Pride Fund’s mission to save lives starts with supporting the right candidates at the state and federal level. They only endorse candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms while championing LGBTQ safety and equality. Pride Fund is changing our nation’s gun laws by raising funds to elect pro-LGBTQ candidates who support common sense gun safety reforms; mobilizing its network of grassroots activists; running targeted digital campaigns, and advocating for legislation at the state and federal levels.
Though it has been two years since the Pulse shooting, I urge all of us, including you, to stay involved in this life or death fight. We must never forget, and we must never let go of our memory of the 49 victims — we have to stay in this fight. Gun violence is a public health epidemic that takes the lives of 38,000 Americans every year. We know there are commonsense measures that Congress could pass today that would save lives – they just need the courage to stand up and do what’s right. And if they won’t, it’s up to us to elect leaders who will.
Tiara Parker is a survivor of the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and a member of the board of advisors at the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence.