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You Must Remember This

Remembering our various identities doesn't separate us from each other; recognizing them is what binds us

Over the past few days, as Republican politicians (and office-seekers) bequeathed well-worn "thoughts and prayers" to the grieving families in Orlando, their gauzy good wishes papered over legislative résumés filled with tangible damages to the specific communities that the killer targeted. More than that: Their generic condolences themselves omitted references to the lived experiences of those who died.

Such oversights are not trivial, nor are they merely symbolic. Physicists have a way of describing the process of deleting information: the thermodynamic cost of forgetting. Turning a 1 into a 0 takes energy. Rhetoric is no different: The deliberate decision to exclude the fullness of people's identities isn't laziness on the part of politicians, it is work. It is work and it has a purpose.

These politicians pleaded to God on behalf of the same LGBTQ individuals whose marriages they would deny. They made gestures toward grace even as they continue to line up behind a presidential candidate who could not resist the urge to use a massacre as grounds for self-congratulation and to justify exclusion. The gunman even made his last stand in a bathroom, giving a particularly grotesque symmetry to North Carolina governor Pat McCrory eulogizing "innocent victims of an inexcusable act of violence." (The trans-exclusionary and protection-stripping laws McCrory supports recognize no such innocence, especially not in bathrooms.)

It was Latin night at Pulse. Trump endorsers Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell did not make the connection that the names of the dead could be confused for a roll call of the families Trump wants to deport. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal bemoaned the violence even though last year they shared a stage with a Colorado megachurch pastor who argues that the Bible justifies a "death penalty for homosexuals."

They don't want us to remember that, in the same way they would prefer that we not dwell on the details of the lives of those who died.

In computer science, machines have to forget. When a 1 goes to a 0, the computer doesn't keep a record of why or how the 1 disappeared. Machines aren't good at remembering, but humans are. Remembering our various identities — gender, sexuality, race, origin — doesn't separate us from each other. Recognizing them is what binds us.

Obscuring the full character of those who died is a way of stalling us. Legislators who erase the details around the murders are doing their part to shroud the reasons for the crime and keep real solutions in the misty future. We care about atrocities enough to act when we feel connected to their victims. We make changes in society when we use our energy to remember, not to forget.