Following the homophobic attack which left 49 dead and the continued fallout of reactions and revelations, editor Darcy Rive looks at some of the issues raised by the worst mass shooting in US history.
In the early hours of the 12th of June, which is celebrated by Muslims as the month of Ramadan and by the LGBTQI community as Pride month, Omar Mateen – an Afghan American, domestic abuser and potential closeted homosexual – walked into Pulse, a gay club, on its Latin-themed night and opened fire – apparently in the name of Islamic State – using an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun (which can be easily purchased in America) and killed 49 people and seriously injured many more in what is now recognised as one of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. As news spread of the shooting, as statistics rose with the number of dead and injured, the world was once again united in its horror at this expression of hatred and violence against the LGBT community.
That first sentence is a difficult one to read – not just because of the subject matter or because it is rather long-winded and generously punctuated. In one sentence, the myriad of issues extending from Sunday’s attack becomes apparent.
The harmony of religion and the ones it condemns is becoming more and more paramount as we move, particularly in the West, to a more secular society that emphasises civil and human rights over religious commandments. Writing for The New York Times, Bilal Qureshi states: “No religion has a monopoly on homophobia. The track record of exclusion and outright abuse of gay men and women in the name of God is a depressing reality across faiths. But we cannot use those analogies to excuse our own shortcomings. Omar Mateen…massacred Americans for thriving in their safe space, for being among those they love and were loved by, and he did it during both Ramadan and a Pride Month that epitomises self-love in the face of hate… For Muslims, this is also a moment to reflect more deeply on how we feel about living in a country where gay rights are central, where marriage equality is real and coexistence is the only way forward.”
In the West, we live in a society where the place of the LGBTQI community is being redefined; where the place of all minorities is being redefined; where the place of women is being redefined; where the place of men is being redefined; and in the face of all this, religion must also find its place in this new society, and sit side by side peacefully within this jigsaw of beliefs and behaviours.
As an Afghan American, Mateen falls into a patriotic divide. Until only two years ago, America was at war in Afghanistan, following the September 11th attacks in 2001. Extending across 13 years, this is the longest war in US history, and one which has been in the news for almost half of someone like 29 year old Mateen’s life. Patience Carter, a survivor from the attack, reported that Mateen told her that he was “doing this to get American to stop bombing his country.” Again, we are seeing the damaging consequences of war spreading hatred in our world.
In his attack, Mateen specifically targeted a gay club. According to his father, Mir Seddique, Mateen had been disgusted when he saw two men kissing in Miami in front of his family, which was offered as motive for the massacre. The Guardian writer Owen Jones has been a particularly prominent figure in ensuring that this is recognised as an LGBT attack and in the media, Mateen was portrayed as an Islamic fundamentalist carrying out an attack on the LGBTQI community. If it were so straightforward, perhaps the attack would be more logical (though still not understandable). However, days after the shooting, it was revealed that Mateen was a regular visitor to Pulse nightclub and a member of numerous gay dating apps. His former colleagues and acquaintances have come forward saying that they thought he was gay. This is no longer a case of heterosexual extremist enacting the will of his God upon the deviant homosexual community, but becomes a story of a man unable to come to terms with his own sexuality – whether for religious or social reasons – whose frustration manifested into violence on an historical scale. Now, more than ever, we see the importance of creating an environment of acceptance and love, where something like sexual orientation isn’t a source of guilt and shame but a celebrated part of what makes someone wonderful.
Sunday’s attack has also reignited the Gun Law debate in America. Currently, any law-abiding US citizen can own or carry a gun thanks to the US Bill of Rights and the second amendment to the United States Constitution (which was written in 1791), and anyone over the age of 18 can buy a rifle or shotgun from a licenced dealer in any state. In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings in the US, (that’s more than one per day of the year), including 64 school shootings. In 2012 in the US, 60% of murders were by firearm (compared to just 10% in the UK, for example). Following the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015, in which 14 people were killed, gun control laws were brought up in the Senate to expand background checks, and it was voted down by 50 to 48 senators. Six months later, almost to the day, 50 people (inclusive of Mateen with his 49 victims) were killed in a mass shooting, effectively one life per vote in favour of the current gun laws. Every firearm related statistic coming of the US clearly shows that the country’s gun laws are not working and must be amended.
While many were devastated by Sunday’s events, there were some who welcomed the news. On Twitter, WNTN @Wontage wrote “50 gay people died in a nightclub thats what you call an effective shooting good shit gays dont deserve to live”, while Dawla Islamiya @voiceofmuslims2 wrote “I as an individual would congratulate and a thump up to the brother who killed filthy gays at #orlando shooting”. On Facebook, Oloruntoba – shared their thoughts: “The shooter is my hero, the cops should be sued for killing a hero,who was doing social justice, I mean since 80% of Americans no longer have brain’s to know that homosexuality is a great sin against God…let those who knows please buy guns and kill off any gay,lesbian,transgender and their likes…and fyi I am a Christian”. Despite all the progress made the LGBTQI community to improve social understanding and acceptance, homophobia is still a huge issue. In 73 countries around the world, it is still illegal to be gay and in 10 it is punishable by death. In the UK, there are more than 100 hate crimes against LGBT people reported each week, and there are many more that go unreported. This prejudice has no place in a society of equality and empowerment.
Mateen’s attack sent shock and devastation around the world and has brought back into the limelight a number of perpetual issues that still need to resolved.
In the face of such devastation, the LGBTQI community and its allies have rallied together in a stance of unity. UK LGBT charity Stonewall organised vigils in Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester in the days following the attack. Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, said: “What has happened in Orlando reminds us that we still have a long way to go before all LGBT people are truly free to be themselves without fear of hate, violence or discrimination for being who they are, and loving who they love. We will not feel free to be ourselves until many more people stand together with us and celebrate LGBT people as equal members of society, in every community and in every part of the world.”
There have also been vigils in America, Australia, France and Germany. Tom Clayton, a garden designer based in London, shared his experience of the vigil held on Soho’s Old Compton Street: “The vigil helped me and many others to express our grief and come to terms with what happened. It was comforting to see so many people together as a community, responding to a hate crime with love, dignity and music. It was possibly the first time that I’ve felt proud to be gay and part of the LGBT community.”
Famous landmarks around the world, such as New York’s Empire State Building, Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Paris’s Eiffel Tower, lit up in rainbow colours to show support. A number of celebrities such as singers Lady Gaga, an LGBT icon, and Nick Jonas, spoke at the vigils in New York. Gaga said: “I hope you know that myself and so many are your allies. Not only me, but everyone here – we represent the compassion and the loyalty of millions of people that believe in you. You are not alone.”
And on social media, there have been outpourings of love and support for the LGBTQI community. Eve Wilson, a postgraduate student based in London, says: “I have been glad to see people’s bravery in expressing their LGBT+ identities on social media and in the press. In my view, emphasising our diversity is the best way of fighting the alienation that resurfaces as self-hatred and resentment, which looking at today’s evidence seem to be part of the story. I have been enriched by the community beyond measure.”
As well as the rainbow filter on profile pictures, the hashtag #twomenkissing has gone viral, with gay couples posting pictures of themselves kissing their loved ones, in response to allegation that Mateen was incensed by the sight.
The massacre in a gay nightclub – one of the worst mass shootings in US history – is not so simple as good versus evil. There are numerous issues at work here and one man’s violent actions must make us all stop and consider our stance on subjects such as religion, war, homophobia, mental illness, diversity and gun laws, to name just a few. It is overwhelming and it is upsetting. But through all of this, we must draw strength from the unity and support of our peers and our allies. Hate will never win. Love will always win.
Love will always win.
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