Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum
The Florida Holocaust Museum’s Anne Frank Humanitarian Award was created out of the ashes of September 11th, conceived as a way to move our community’s eyes and hearts away from the violence that had sprung out of insensible hatred, and to focus on the good that was being done, particularly by our young people. The very first group of award recipients in 2002 included Christopher Andrew Leinonen, who was one of the many casualties of the insensible violence this past weekend in Orlando.
Christopher’s award nomination, written by his high school’s guidance counselor describes the way Christopher saw and was moved to action by the everyday struggles of gay and lesbian teenagers; struggles that left many feeling hopeless and silenced, exemplified at the time by a strikingly high suicide rate. Christopher had the presence of mind and personal leadership to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Seminole High School, working with administrators and students to make the GSA a positive presence in the school.
From the moment the shootings began at the Pulse in Orlando, there have been those who have tried to hijack this terrible event to push forward their personal hatreds and agendas, to foment more fear and division. This cannot be what we should be taking away from this tragedy. We should, instead, be focusing and building on the tremendous outpouring of love and support that has been flowing in from all over the country and all over the world. Right now, it is more important than ever to remember the words of Anne Frank, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
We mourn for all the victims and their families. Most of all, we mourn for a world without Christopher, who worked to bring people together to create a community of understanding, and who bettered the world through his words and deeds. The greatest tribute we can pay to him is to embrace his ideals.