What now? Reflections on Orlando

by Maria Carter

On June 12 in Orlando, a deeply disturbed young man with a semi-automatic rifle shot 102 people in less than 15 minutes at a gay nightclub, killing 49 and wounding 53. The majority of those killed and injured were young, queer and Latinx, enjoying the dancing and celebration at the club’s Latin night.

News of the attack flattened the American LGBTQ+ community. We’re still reeling.

In the 24 hours after the shooting, a political drama of truly American proportions played out across media outlets. The Right immediately seized upon the shooter’s Muslim affiliation and his expression of solidarity with the Islamic State as evidence that this attack was an act of radical Islamic terror. ‘An attack against all Americans,’ they said. ‘It could have happened to anyone.’

anwhile, as the story developed, a more complex picture emerged. Omar Mateen had been troubled and violent since he was a child. He had been a patron of the gay club he attacked, and had profiles on several gay dating apps. He had even come out as gay to a few friends, even though he was married to a woman, with a young son. Outside of gay circles, however, co-workers and family say he frequently made intensely homophobic remarks. He made wild claims about his radicalism, at various points claiming to support three different, opposing radical Islamic terror groups.

In our queer hearts, we knew. Whatever his religious affiliation and links to terrorism, this was also a hate-crime. It did not happen to all Americans. It happened to the LGBTQ+ community. And, more specifically, primarily to LGBTQ+ people of color.

Things feel different now. At least 100 new anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across 22 states just since last year. Before June 12th, this reality was irritating, even troubling. Now, it feels panic- and rage-inducing. The homophobic sentiment that has plagued American society for decades had begun to seem anachronistic since the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted last year. This month we learned that we are not as safe as we imagined.

In the days after the Orlando attack, many Christians and Muslims, Republicans and Democrats, made beautiful expressions of support and solidarity. Others did not. The deafening silence from some Republican lawmakers and conservative Christians, as well as the explicit support for the killing on the part of a handful of ultra-conservative Christian leaders, have reverberated throughout the LGBTQ+ community. In a time when a loud segment of the population is angrily outspoken against Latino immigration, such silence and implicit approval have resounded among Latinx queers even more so.

What now? Where do we go from this place of fear, anger and vulnerability? What can we do, to make this tragedy into a catalyst for good in the world? As horrific as this event is, it is only one among many examples of assault and murder of LGBTQ+ people that happen each year. American culture has a homophobia problem, and it’s past time to resolve it.

It is past time for religious judgment to be removed from American political discourse. No matter one’s personal feelings or beliefs on sexual orientation or gender identity, the use of conservative religious rationale to attack civil rights is a trend that we must shame out of existence.

Similarly, a rational public discourse on gun regulation seems painfully necessary. Mateen killed dozens of people in seconds, with a weapon designed for military use, legally available to the public. Whatever your opinions on the 2nd Amendment, can we at least agree to lift the prohibition on government funded gun research? Can we at least engage in a reasoned, evidence-based, national conversation about whether equipment designed solely to kill other humans with maximum efficiency should be easier to purchase than cold medicine?

My community is hurting. Our sense of safety was crushed in Orlando, in that early morning when we were attacked at our most vulnerable – in our sanctuary, in the one place in society where we know for certain we can go and not be condemned for how we look or who we love. What we need most from America right now is to feel safe again.

We need you to tell us that you support us and accept us for who we are. We need to know that you’re going to stop attacking our civil rights and basic dignity (bathroom bills, anyone?) We need to know that you’ll support the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination clauses in your schools, cities and states. We need to know you don’t support the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with us.

If you are not a part of the group of Americans who are secretly satisfied about the massacre of 49 young LGBTQ+ people, then TELL US. Tell us, and tell other Americans, and tell the government, and tell your parents, and tell the people in your life who may disagree. That is what it means to be an ally right now. It means that you use your voice in the straight community to tell people that this was wrong, and to tell people that homophobia and transphobia are wrong. We want to feel safe again. Tell us that we’re safe with you. Tell us that you’re with us, with your voice and your voting choices. Not just right now, but for the long haul – until LGBTQ+ hate crimes are reduced to a distant cultural memory.

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