EILE’s founder & Editor-at-Large, Scott De Buitléir, takes a moment to reflect on the tragedy of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
As the news broke across social media, and later onto the major news sites – first in the U.S., then quickly across the Atlantic – there was a feeling of disbelief. Surely this couldn’t be real, we thought; yet another lone gunman decides to change people’s lives forever.
As the details become clearer, and that 50 people have now been confirmed dead, the disbelief evaporates and the horror sets in. It is now being said that the shootings at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando are the single biggest terrorist shooting in United States history.
But it’s not just the biggest terrorist shooting in U.S. history. It’s the biggest homophobic attack in American history, also. This is an attack of mass homophobia, a term that isn’t being used as widely as “terrorism” among the media, but an act of homophobia nonetheless.
The city of Orlando has rallied around their LGBT and wider community quickly, though. It has already been reported that thousands of Floridians have queued to donate blood on behalf of the victims of the Pulse shootings, many of whom are critically injured in hospital. Ironically, however, gay men who have had sex within the past twelve months are banned from donating blood.
The shooter, named as Omar Mateen, was noted by his father as being angry over the sight of two men kissing. Mir Seddique, Mateen’s father, told NBC News that this has “nothing to do with religion”, a statement which needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; if Mateen was driven by his homophobia to kill so many people, such strong levels of homophobia rarely come from secular sources. [Update: It has since been reported that Mateen pledged allegiance to Islamic State before attacking the Pulse nightclub.]
That being said, however, faith is a source of strength in such tragic times, and religious leaders were quick to come out in support of those targeted by Mateen in the early hours of Sunday morning. The thousands of people wanting to help, by donating blood, shows the strong levels of solidarity amongst fellow Floridians for their LGBT friends (including, of course, the allies and friends who were also undoubtedly enjoying their time at the nightclub also).
How the mainstream media report this, and how the history books record it, is going to be crucial. This is one of the biggest attacks on the LGBT community, especially in the Western world, for quite a long time. An early contributor to EILE, Anthony Zagariko, wrote yesterday that: “Despite the progress of LGBT rights since the Stonewall riots, we still have a long way to go. As long as people are dying across the globe because they are just like us, we cannot stop fighting.”
I echo that. Whether in Orlando, or in Los Angeles – where a man’s attempt to bring firearms and a bomb to the city’s Pride area was foiled yesterday – or anywhere else in the world, such attacks on our LGBT community proves that despite any political progress, we are not out of danger yet. There are still (frankly, crazy) people who want to hurt us, simply because of who we are.
That does not mean to say that we should be scared of living our lives – we have fought far too hard to go back into hiding – but there is no cost to being vigilant, or to stay safe. Indeed, we may well presume that homophobia is going to be prevalent in certain places more than others, but Orlando has just proven that nowhere is immune to senseless hatred.
The British journalist, Benjamin Butterworth, summed it up perfectly yesterday on Twitter:
Here I am in Ukraine expecting to find homophobia. But it is in America that 50 are killed. Prejudice knows no nation or culture. Only hate.
— Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) 12 June 2016
We cannot, for a second, become complacent in our new-found, fickle, and vulnerable freedoms in the West. We cannot let fear, hatred, and ignorance win against us. We cannot allow others to think they can put us down again. We cannot stop fighting.
-Scott De Buitléir