On 11 June, in a well-known gay club, on a Latinx night headlined by a transgender woman of colour, 49 people were murdered and 53 were injured at the hands of an armed shooter. The story is unlikely to be new to many. Omar Mateen, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun shot indiscriminately at club-goers and took hostages in the bathroom. After one hostage managed to contact the police and a 3-hour stand-off, Mateen was killed. In the early hours of that Sunday morning, the worst mass shooting in America’s recent history took place in Pulse nightclub. Let that resonate. 49 people were murdered, another 53 injured and hoping not to join the list of fatalities, in a designated safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals. A space in which they were supposed to feel welcome, and free to express themselves, to dance and to love whomever and however they wished, away from the prying eyes of those that would criticise or hurt them. Over 100 people’s lives put at direct risk for being themselves in their own space, and millions more across the world greatly affected by this tragedy. America’s worst mass shooting was targeted at LGBTQ+ individuals, in a place they were supposed to feel safe.
In the onslaught of information around this event, it is important I think to give the platform to the community who were targeted to talk about this tragedy. Let us remember that this was an act on terror towards the LGBTQ+ community, and that fact must not be overlooked. Given it was a Latinx night, headlined by transgender people of colour, the shooting mostly affected Latinx queer people, and other queer people of colour. This community are already often overlooked by the white LGBTQ+ community, and face multiple layers of oppression and hatred for their identity. Now more than ever they need our love and support, and to be allowed to grieve as loudly and as angrily as they need. Strip away the erasure and silencing of LGBTQ+ individuals, and the policing of our grief. Strip away the Islamophobia and racism that pushes us to stand against our Muslim siblings. We must make sure this attack can be seen for what it is, not for what those who remain fuelled by hatred, whether they know it or not, would tell us it is.
Do not let the media take this act of hatred by one monster to demonise another group
The shooter, whose name should not be held above those whose lives he took, is being painted as something we have no reason to believe he was. Pushed to be a false representation of a community who now face dreadful backlash for the actions of one monster, for something they had no hand in. Those who knew the shooter claim that he did not practice his faith, did not participate in the holy month of Ramadan, was neither fasting, nor praying. No proper evidence has come to light that he was associated with ISIS, nor given his lapse attention to following his faith does it seem likely. And yet, fingers are being pointed to the Muslim community, Islamophobia and racism and hatred being perpetuated on the pretence of support for the LGBTQ+ individuals. Furthermore, we should not dismiss the killer’s acts as simply one of “madness” or a sign of his “mental instability”. Though I do not pretend to know of the true mental health status of this monster, now is not the time to air your ableism, to perpetuate the marginalisation and negative stereotyping those who truly suffer from mental health issues face. As well as ignoring the large intersection of mental health issues and the LGBTQ+ community, it paints all sufferers as violent, rather than people who are themselves more vulnerable to violence. This kind of hated makes weapons of our dead, and uses our grief for an agenda we do not support. It takes this tragedy, and uses it for its own, hateful gain. This is no way to show respect or support.
Do not let the media take this act of hatred by one monster to demonise another group. We are still mourning our dead, let us not turn against others. They died for love, let their death not breed more hate. Remember that Muslim LGBTQ+ individuals are feeling the heat from all sides, that the stigma faced by the Muslim and mentally unwell communities does nothing to help. Do not let people stand behind the LGBTQ+ community only when there are another group they wish to hurt more than us. As University lecturer, João Florêncio sums up perfectly in his recent article “it is telling that it only takes a brown, (supposedly) Islamist “terrorist” for queer lives to suddenly be worth mourning publicly as “human” lives. What this reveals is how the net worth of queer bodies changes depending on who or what threatens their existence, how queer lives are only grieved for when threatened by someone with an even less grievable life – in this case, a brown Muslim”.
While the shock and hurt in the aftermath of this event has shaken up many of the queer community, it is also important to mark their strength even in this dark time. On Tuesday night, a candlelit vigil, organised over just two days by the LGBTQ+ society was held on Campus, and approximately 250 people from across the South West came to pay their respects to those who were killed, and to stand together in this time of grief and fear. Candles were lit, prayers said, poems read, and songs sung. The names of the fallen were read and two silences were held: one to mourn, and one for hope. This was an event to help the LGBTQ+ community stand as one, to mourn and to stand in defiance, to make us feel safe, loved and less alone. The society’s president, Nate Burnikell urged us to stand together and never let us face a loss like this again; to let this silence be our last.
To those of you who are cisgender and straight. I ask you to open your eyes, open your hearts, and close your mouths for a moment. Let the LGBTQ+ community speak, and do not talk over us. Do not co-opt our voices for your agenda of Islamophobia, racism, or ableism. As João says “we are talking about a hate crime. And hate crimes must not be co-opted into dominant logics of ‘us versus them’. This simply serves to feed dominant and dangerously simplistic views of a world that, in positing the ‘free’ West against an ‘oppressive’ Islam, conveniently overlook its political complexities and nuances.” Do not police our grief or tell us to calm down. Do not urge that we see our fallen siblings as ‘people’ above all else. We know that they were people, and that we are too. But they died for being LGBTQ+, not for being people, and taking that from us to construct your narrative only feeds the problem. Do not take this opportunity to congratulate yourself on living in a country with stricter gun laws as though atrocities like this could not and are not, committed regardless. That these acts of violence are perpetuated in every fight behind the bike sheds, every slur in the street, every conscious act of misgendering around the dinner table. Do not offer your prayers to Orlando, make yourself feel good and then take the path of least resistance when you see or hear any queerphobic comments. Take the hand that you are patting yourself on the back with and reach out to the LGBTQ+ community around you. Prove that you stand with us, even when it is not the easiest choice to make. Acknowledge that if you do not actively try and dispel any homophobia you come across, that you are part of the problem. Acknowledge that this culture in which homophobia, transphobia and racism go unchecked, passed off as an opinion, a debate, playing the devil’s advocate, is what allows these crimes to happen. It is the homophobia, be it conscious or not, that is taking our lives, be it by gun, by fist, or by our own hand; and your silence kills us just as the hateful speech does. Being a fair weather friend to our community is no longer – should never have been – an option. If you say you are with us, stand with us when we need you, in the large scale tragedies, and in the day to day battles.
I’m sorry that now, more than ever, you may feel alone and afraid
To those of you who are LGBTQ+, I’m so sorry that we are facing this. I’m so sorry for the loss, for the fear, and for the anger. I’m so sorry for the people you will come across who are siding with the murderer over the innocent. I’m sorry that now, more than ever, you may feel alone and afraid. I’m sorry you may feel like even those you thought supported you cannot be enough, can’t be the friends you need at this time. Surround yourselves with love and support, wherever you can find it. Take care of yourselves, and know that you are loved. I ask that you do not let this man take any more from our community than he already has. Not one more life, not one more person afraid to hold hands with the person they love, not afraid to go out. We’re here, we’re queer, and we refuse to live in fear. In the face of all this hatred, and fear, I ask that you stand defiant, that you reclaim the spaces you deserve, the grief you are entitled to feel, and the dancefloor. That in the face of all this hatred and fear, I ask that you love louder.