Stephen Donnan writes that the Orlando shootings were homophobic in nature, and not attacks against the ‘wider community’.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to write this article as 50 people lie in morgues in Orlando, Florida. Most of them are like me – openly LGBT+ and I have to say my blood ran a little colder when I read the headline that a gunman had massacred revellers at a gay nightclub in Orlando, colder than it did when I watched the events unfold in Belgium or Paris. Why?
Because I instantly recognised that this was no ‘ordinary’ terrorist incident – this wasn’t the random and callous work of fundamentalist lunatics that want to cause carnage and mayhem – this was a deliberate and focused attack on the LGBT+ community, whether you like to admit that or not.
Politicians from across the spectrum were quick to denounce the killings as ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘chilling’, and media outlets began their usual 24-hour rolling speculation about the attack, but one word was missing from it all – ‘Gay’. This wasn’t just a terrorist attack for us – this was personal.
The attack on the Pulse nightclub shines a mirror up to the spectrum of LGBT-hatred that extends from the Republican Party backed anti-Transgender Bathroom Bills, right through to the YouTube videos of ISIS throwing homosexual men to their deaths in Syria and Iraq.
It is impossible for people like Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to denounce the attack in Orlando and remain credible. We don’t need and those families don’t need your thoughts and prayers. We don’t want to hear platitudes coming from the mouths of those same politicians and media outlets that brand us as ‘child molesters’, ‘perverts’ and share public platforms with religious zealots that call for us to be put to death.
There is no acceptable level of anti-gay hatred that you can espouse, and expect to be taken seriously when you condemn a terrorist attack on a nightclub that serves as a safe space for LGBT+ people.
We don’t have the church, we don’t have the army, we don’t have the streets. Some of us don’t even have a family or a home that we can be confident will keep us safe and give us the space to express who we are, and why we are without fear of being murdered for it. Nightclubs, for many LGBT+ people, are those safe havens. Our Mecca, our safe houses, they are the Churches that we go to and pray to the Gods of whatever to let us have these four walls that we are in and to keep them from crashing down around us.
It is safety in numbers, but the attack in Orlando has blown a hole in that forever. The shootings were the work of a homophobe and a lunatic and a terrorist – but to reduce the event to an ‘attack on everyone’ or an ‘attack on freedom of expression’ is reductive, and a slap in the face to those 50 people who were killed because of who they were or because of who someone thought they were. LGBT+ people and their friends, enjoying a night out in a club in a state that still refuses to protect them in housing or employment.
Owen Jones was absolutely right to walk off Sky News last night when confronted with astounding ignorance from the host, Mark Longhurst, about the point he was making. Mark was adamant that this was an attack on freedom of expression and completely missed the issue that Owen was trying to raise – this was an attack on our community. Had the gunman walked into a Synagogue he would have been anti-Semitic. Had he walked into a Veteran’s Centre he would have been accused of targeting military service personnel. Had he shot up a predominantly black or Korean church he would have rightly been branded a racist. But he didn’t.
Omar Marteen walked into a gay nightclub and opened fire on the patrons inside there. His actions, whether you want to admit it or not, are homophobic and anti-LGBT in their scope. If you have a problem with acknowledging that, then maybe you should examine some of the language you use when it comes to LGBT+ people.
If you have ever expressed a desire to see gay couples denied equal rights, or for transgender people to be segregated or even stood idly by whilst anti-LGBT laws were passed in your state or country, then I’m sorry to say you’re on the same spectrum as Omar Marteen.
You don’t have to walk into a night club full of gay people with a machine gun to be accused of being a homophobe. Homophobia and the rainbow-lexicon of phobias that the LGBT+ community faces can be subtle. They can be in the disgusted looks we get when we hold hands in the street. It can be in the inaction of the school teacher when a kid is called a ‘faggot’. It can be the co-sponsoring of a Bill that allows gay people to be fired from their jobs if they get married, and yes, it extends to lunatics that walk into night clubs with machine guns.
We won’t allow this to be reduced to a terrorist attack against ‘the wider community’ because it wasn’t. Omar Marteen targeted LGBT+ people and the reason so many anti-gay politicians or pundits have either remained silent or omitted any mention of the word ‘gay’ from their mealy-mouthed Tweets is because they understand this act doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They understand that they have helped to foster, and in some cases actively create an atmosphere in which same-sex marriage, gender neutral bathrooms and employment protections for LGBT+ people are seen as the threat to public decency and order and not being able to buy an assault rifle in Walmart.
We don’t want your platitudes or your thoughts and prayers. We need you at our Pride parades, we need you to fly the flag as high as you can and as often as you can. We need you to speak out for us rather than legislating against us.