On Saturday night 50 people were gunned down in a terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida. As a result of the death toll, this incident is the most devastating mass shooting in US history as well as the largest ever terrorist attack carried out by one person. The suspected shooter, Omar Mateen, carried out the attack armed with an AR-15, which is the civilian version of an M-16 military assault rifle, and a handgun. There needs to be a series of conversations that take place in the aftermath of this attack, but one is undeniable. According to reports Mateen’s father said that his son had seen two men kissing and this angered him. Let’s be clear this attack was not coincidentally in a gay club. It was targeted by a homophobic bigot who thought that same-sex attraction should be punished with execution.
There are many facets to this incident that I want to touch upon but the first has to be about the victims. The attack took place in the Pulse nightclub, a popular gay club in Orlando. As I mentioned above Mateen’s relatives were aware that he held prejudicial views towards LGBT people; this is clearly the main motivating factor. If Mateen had walked into a church after spouting views about how Christians made him sick, everyone would be calling this out as bigotry. If he had walked into a synagogue after deriding Jews then everyone would be calling it anti-Semitic. However for some reason there are figures in the mainstream media who are declaring this a ‘human tragedy’ rather than a homophobic hate crime. These people are not wrong by saying that the murder of 50 is human tragedy but by ignoring the fact that he was prejudiced against LGBT people, these media figures are failing to fully inform the public of what took place.
To put this into perspective, this attack will not only go down in American history but it will go down in international LGBT history. Throughout LGBT history there have been a series of watershed moments including the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the 1980s and the Stonewall Riots of 1969. In terms of hate crimes there are also countless examples of LGBT people being persecuted as a result of their sexual orientation. However this is more significant that people think. Although this isn’t the first time that LGBT people have been targeted, the Orlando massacre is the most devastating targeted attack against LGBT people since the Holocaust. This fact really brings home the idea that for the LGBT community this isn’t just a shooting, this is an attack on their identity and their comrades. Allies are necessary to combat prejudice, but the reaction of an LGBT person and a straight person after Orlando will not be the same and it would be foolish of anybody to think otherwise.
The crueller irony of this situation is that the inherent homophobia of American society is once again on show. Countries in the West have made a huge amount of progress on the issue of LGBT rights and this shouldn’t be derided, however the vestiges of archaic attitudes remain. In the wake of the attack people within the LGBT community and public figures like President Obama have called for unity in this time of crisis, and as a result many charitable initiatives have been set up such as a temporary counselling service to help the victims and their families and outreach projects between different communities within Orland to prevent this happening again. But I wanted to mention one other thing.
As well as the 50 fatalities, there were 53 people hospitalised and there were reports that the local hospitals were running out of blood supplies to treat the wounded. An act of solidarity from the LGBT community would be to set up a blood drive to help their brothers and sisters pull through. The problem is that they can’t. According to Florida law people who have had sex with someone of the same gender cannot give blood unless they abstain from such activity for 12 months. As a result of this prejudicial law LGBT people cannot give blood to their injured comrades. Laws like these were instituted around the world in a response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis because people didn’t know about how the disease spread and most of the victims of the disease were homosexuals. However ignorance about HIV/AIDS in the medical community no longer exists. Banning people from giving blood because of who they have sex with is totally arbitrary, especially when they have used contraception. In the wake of the HIV/AIDS Crisis a popular slogan was “ACT UP” and hopefully the LGBT community around the world will start acting up and demand that these laws are repealed.
At the time of writing there are unconfirmed reports that the suspected shooter had links to ISIS. I have spoken about terrorism in the past and how it is an incredibly nuanced and complicated issue, therefore I don’t want to spend much time on it now. The one thing I will say is that I am not surprised by this. I know that for some this attack will be a sobering experience, but I am keenly interested in foreign affairs and therefore am fully aware of how ISIS have thrown gay people off the top of buildings and in some cases crucified them. The hate that ISIS have towards the LGBT community has been demonstrated in Iraq and Syria time and time again, and an attack in America is, frankly, not surprising to me.
The other obvious point is about gun control. In 2012, 27 people including 20 children were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook shooting. After much outrage and calls for gun control nothing happened. The reason: the influence of the NRA over politicians. If American politicians are unable to pass gun control legislation after children are gunned down in a school then I don’t hold out much hope that politicians will do anything now, especially given how many of these representatives have derided LGBT people in recent months. Although more people have been killed in Orlando than in Sandy Hook, the same arguments by gun enthusiasts will be the same and the gridlock of Congress will kill any attempts to pass gun control legislation.
I began writing this piece in anger and frustration at how the media was covering the massacre but now I’m writing from a place of despondence. I hope that the LGBT community and their straight allies organise to successfully battle against the forces of intolerance but when this threat comes from an terrorist ideology like Wahhabism or Salafism this is an intimidating thought. However the only thing that can really be done to stop people getting gunned down is to institute controls on gun ownership. The reason that I am so down is that we’ve had this conversation before, and nothing has happened. This time, I cannot see any other result.