What we say when we talk about Orlando.

Michael Tew

In Orlando, on June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 wounded in the worst mass shooting in American history. They were not random people gathered together for a social occasion. They were at Pulse, a gay bar (not a bar that euphemistically “caters to LGBT clientele”). Lets be clear. The victims of this shooting rampage were members of LGBT communities and LGBT community allies or, at least, supporters. That critical element of what happened is getting increasingly lost in our public conversation. Initial press conferences regarding the tragedy had representation from nearly every conceivable official and constituency – except LGBT people. Mainstream media covering the murders seemed incapable of actually reporting what kind of nightclub Pulse is (or was). Almost as if they wanted to avoid offense by speaking the truth. This was a place for LGBT people and their (our) friends.  A kind of sanctuary. Not saying so suggests there is something wrong with that or something to hide. Something unspeakable. As we move forward, some media coverage has begun to include token voices from LGBT communities.  Good. Straight audiences need to hear from us. The headline is that the shooter went to an LGBT venue, a gay bar, and committed this heinous crime.

People who are uncomfortable dealing with LGBT people have seized the opportunity to talk about this event in the context of international terrorism. How fortunate for them that they can speak without actually talking about gay people. But people in a gay bar were attacked. Is that terrorism? Yes. It that a hate crime? Yes. Is it fair to call it homophobic terrorism? Probably yes.  Attacks on people in gay bars, or LGBT spaces writ large, are nothing really new (calling it terrorism – that’s new). At least its not new to people who have been in those spaces for the past hundred years (0r so). Its hard for mainstream culture, particularly public figures, politicians, media figures, etc., to talk about what LGBT people live with. But we have to talk about all of the features of this violence. Not just the parts that are more “accessible”  or less “universal.” That conversation masks the sexuality and gender of many of the victims (and the communities which occupy this space) while amplifying the role of Islamic “religion,” the availability of guns, or the faith of more than 1.6 billion people around the world who have nothing to do with these murders.

Again, let’s call it what it is. Omar Mateen, a violent and clearly twisted person, slaughtered 49 people in a gay bar. Maybe because he was inspired by the extremist ideology and brutality of ISIS (which masquerades as religion). Or, maybe he was inspired by the 10 U.S. Christian pastors who have advocated for the execution of gay people during the last 10 years (yes, there are sources on that, you are welcome to ask but first just look up Scott Lively, Kevin Swanson, Curtis Knapp, Steven Anderson). They are also extremists masquerading their ideology as religion (Christianity), but perhaps they are less easy to talk about (especially when 3 GOP presidential candidates appeared on stage with Swanson). This so called “radical Islam” is not Islam, just like those extremists pastors are not Christianity. But they both have followers. So while we can call this an act of terror, until there is actual evidence that some group specifically orchestrated this massacre rather than inspiring the horrible actions of a home grown homophobe and ISIS sympathizer, we should recognize the shooting as the homophobia that it is. The same hatred for LGBT people advocated by religious extremists in many places, not just Islam.

We need to talk about all of it. To privilege one dimension of the conversation quiets too many, deeply entrenched issues and needed voices. We have to talk about all of the bad and all of the heroes and love that come out of this tragedy. Both are there. There are straight and LGBT, there are all religions, there are people with a platform and people who express their love and support with simple, quiet actions. We need to recognize and talk about all of it.




About Equality Research Center

The mission of the Equality Research Center is to promote, support, and disseminate research focused on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender equality and human rights. The Center is dedicated to the advancement of Equality by connecting academic, evidence based research to community action, public policy, and curricular innovation.
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