WASHINGTON D.C. — After his boyfriend of three years was killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Ryan Reyes found himself in the position of speaking out against religious intolerance. During the painful days following the violence, Reyes was comforted by members of the local Muslim community and found inspiration in their compassion. Just over one month later, on Jan. 12, Reyes will be taking his message to the nation as a presidential guest at the annual State of the Union address.On Dec. 2, 2015, two people entered a conference room at the Inland Regional Center (IRC) and open fired, killing 14 and wounding 12. Reyes’ boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman, was one of the 14 victims. He was employed as trainer for the disabled and a barista at the Coffee N More cafe located in the IRC. He was in the cafe when the shooting took place and, as the story goes, he was responsible for saving at least four lives during that attack.
“[Daniel] was one of those rare individuals that when your spirit was low, a hug from him was like a double shot of espresso. He was life itself and we’ll both miss him,” remembered close friend Jack Prewett.
Since that day, Reyes has been interviewed many times by the media, even making a guest appearance on The Dr. Phil Show, which he described as a “a good and productive experience for my goals.” In fact, it was due to that appearance that Reyes was unable to grant The Wild Hunt an interview in early December. However, we caught up with him yesterday, just after he arrived in Washington D.C.
“My emotional process has been a complete roller coaster since day one,” Reyes said. “[But] I have experienced this kind of pain before (different means, but the pain is the same), so I have been able to predict when it is going to be rough for me and I will take the appropriate measures. This is why it has been rare that anyone has caught me in a breakdown. I am able to keep a cool, level head when I need to.”
Reyes is openly Pagan and identifies as “non-denominational” rather than specifically Wiccan like Daniel. His said that his spiritual beliefs have greatly helped him through the initial mourning process as well as keeping him focused on new goals. He explained, “A lesson I learned in life is that no one promised life would be easy, just eventful. So that helps keep me grounded when I am dealing with difficult things. Like most Pagans, I am a humanitarian, so that guides my current work.”
Reyes is originally from Rialto, California, and met Daniel online over three years ago. When the shooting happened, he was at home. Reyes said, “I was […] getting ready for a doctor’s appointment when my sister texted me to tell me about the shooting. The first thought that crossed my mind was ‘I need to call Daniel.’ ” He had last seen his boyfriend that morning when dropping him off at the IRC.
Due to the initial conflicting reports, it was unclear whether Daniel had died or was only wounded. However, by the end of the day, Reyes learned the truth. Daniel had been killed. But, at the same, he learned that Daniel was also credited as being a hero. Reyes said, “Daniel was a very compassionate and loving person that would go to great lengths to help anyone he could.”
Over the next week, Reyes friends and family came out to support him, including members of the local Pagan community and Renaissance Pleasure Faire. During a memorial vigil held Dec. 5, four leaders of the local Muslim community were in attendance; they approached Reyes with condolences.
In an interview with the Los Angles Times, Reyes said, “They risked their own personal safety to come and pay their respects. It really meant a lot to me.”
At the December vigil, Ryan Reyes [center] speaks with several local Muslim men, who were in attendance to pay their respects to his boyfriend, L. Daniel Kaufman.
Reyes was touched by the men’s compassion, and he was immediately driven to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment and religious intolerance. Over the next month, he granted a large number of media interviews and appearances. This reportedly attracted the attention of the President, who has recently been very vocal about gun violence. On Jan. 4, the White House released an executive order specifically aimed at “reducing gun violence.”
A White House official contacted Reyes by phone and asked if he “would come as a VIP guest and sit in the First Lady’s box during the speech.” Reyes said, “Daniel’s story touched the first family as well as my speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiments.”
He will be sitting in the balcony with First Lady Michelle Obama, along with 22 other guests. The full guest list was announced Sunday. Additionally, the seat directly next to Reyes will be left empty as a symbolic gesture, representing Daniel and all others lost to gun violence this year. The White House announcement reads:
We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.
Reyes won’t be speaking, as some news outlets have suggested. He said, “I am not going into it with any expectations. I try not to have expectations in anything so that way I can’t get easily disappointed.”
When asked what Daniel might think about his work and all this attention, Reyes said ” I know [Daniel] would approve of what I am doing. He would not want people suffering or being treated differently just because they share the same religion as extremists/radical groups do.”
Reyes will return to California later in the week. Going forward, he plans to continue sharing Daniel’s story and words of tolerance. However, he doesn’t know exactly how that will manifest next. Reyes said, “The only plans I really have are to keep pressing forward with my message. Depending on what happens and how things go, I may write a book as I have been asked to by several people. I also intend on starting a Foundation/Non-profit in Daniel’s name at some point. I am not fully sure about what kind yet.”
The State of Union address will air tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
Update 3:07 pm: It was just announced that Reyes and his story will be featured on ABC News Nightline, which airs from 12:35 a.m. – 1:05 a.m ET.