When I saw the first text from my partner, it was still pretty early on the West Coast – 11:15pm or so. The headline read, “Orlando shooting: Police confirm multiple injuries at Pulse nightclub“, so (sadly) I didn’t really think much of it. I am not familiar with the Orlando area, and had no idea that the club catered to the LGBTQ+ demographic at the time. All I really thought before I went to bed was, “another shooting at a nightclub with casualties – some drunk idiot shot some other drunk idiots – such a shame.” Shootings were a big reason why I stopped going to nightclubs back in Denver.
The next text came a couple of hours later from a friend in Jacksonville to a larger group of friends, “Florida Pulse gay club attacked in Orlando – mass casualties“, and I thought to myself “This is serious. Gay people don’t go around shooting up nightclubs. It’s not really their style to be so aggro and shit. The news has to have it wrong.” It still didn’t register that tragedy had just enveloped Orlando. Our group moved on in the conversation to discussing a documentary that one woman had recently seen called, On A Sunday Morning – about a baptist preacher instigating death to gays as a cure for AIDS. Collectively, we couldn’t fathom what could make someone hate others so much as to go all Adolph Hitler on people, and try to wipe out an entire group of humans, simply because they make you a little uncomfortable.
I switched from the text conversation to checking the news on my phone and saw several stories streaming in, estimating 50 people dead, 50+ more wounded at a hot LGBTQ+ spot in Orlando. Then, the gravity of the situation hit me. This was more than an argument at a nightclub gone south, this was an attack on an entire group of humans, whom I have revered for as long as I can remember. My intuition didn’t need to know much in order to know that this was clearly another attack on a community that has always been loving and welcoming to others. Memories of Matthew Shepard’s murder came flooding back, and a wave of nausea hit me. This was, without a doubt, an act of pure hate.
President Obama called it an act of terrorism, an act of hate and a direct attack on the LGBT community. While the shooter was supposedly inspired by ISIL to commit the atrocity, Bill O’Reilly candidly pointed out that everything ISIL does is an act of hate. And while I’d love to be talking about how we can finally enact meaningful massacre prevention (aka gun control) in this country, the real conversation that we need to be having should be centered around how our faith-based and political leaders are culpable in seeding hateful ideas and rhetoric towards the LGBTQ+ community with their constituents and congregations across the country. It is they who must to answer to the families of the 49 fallen and 53 injured at Pulse Nightclub, for they helped embolden the shooter into believing his cause was worthy.
In fact, I helped to co-create and launch the We Are Straight Allies campaign in 2013, to directly combat the misinformation and hateful discord that centered around Jacksonville, Florida’s failure to pass expanded Human Rights protections to the LGBTQ+ community in 2012. The continuing conversations with City Council have proven why the additional protections are necessary, but we wanted our campaign to also send the LGBTQ+ community a more powerful message to remind them that they are loved, appreciated, and valued members of the community. Sadly, in 2016, we are still fighting together to get an expanded HRO passed in the city of Jacksonville, mainly due to people citing their own religious bias for why the LGBTQ+ doesn’t deserve the same protections as everyone else.
Ever since same-sex marriage was sanctioned by the US Supreme Court in 2015, the LGBTQ+ community barely had a moment to celebrate their historic win before they began to face waves upon waves of brutal backlash. There are currently 100+ other bills up for a vote across the country to weaken that ruling, which allows the same legal marriage protections that the rest of the “privileged” straight people have taken for granted for centuries – protections like making funeral arrangements for a loved one who has been murdered by a deranged, religious fanatic in a city that is home to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. Marriage is not a religious concept – it is a legal contract, hijacked by the Churches centuries ago, in order to be able to oversee which member of one Royal Family was allowed to married another. Not much has changed…the Conservative Right still wants to be able to dictate who can get married, and they are pissed now that they can’t.
In recent months, Houston (a city with a Lesbian mayor) voted to rescind the expanded protections for their LGBTQ+ community, while North Carolina passed HB2, blocking Transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Mississippi wants to allow people to discriminate based on their religious choosing. The GOP blocked a bill confirming Obama’s Executive Order which expanded discrimination protections LGBT people employed by Federal Contractors, just 3 DAYS after the Orlando Massacre, and Congress hasn’t been able to get the Civil Rights Act updated since 1968. Opponents hide behind this guise of religious freedom and the First Amendment as their justification for being judgmental pricks.
In fact, many members of Congress are guilty of spewing their own load of hateful language towards constituents in their own districts, without any sort of remorse, simply because they don’t follow their so-called book of ethics. Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t too keen on hating “the sinner”. As someone who reveres the First Amendment above most others, I am tired of seeing the American Taliban perverting the spirit of the law, providing all Americans with both the freedom of religion AND the freedom FROM religion. The Conservative Christian Right and Radical Islamic groups preach the same ideologies; cousins with the same lust for power. They hate women, LGBTQ+ people, people of different faiths, free speech, people with different ethic heritage, and free thinkers alike.
Now, after years of spewing their vile, they are shocked when someone commits the largest hate crime in modern US history and act like it was a terrorist attack on all Americans. No, it was a terrorist attack, targeted at a specific group of Americans, which makes it a hate crime. A group of Americans that these “leaders” have condemned with their spiteful language for years now. A group of Americans who have been the target of more hate crimes than any other. The shooter didn’t have to pledge allegiance to ISIL, or any of the other conflicting groups he gave a shout out to. He could have listened to what these shitty leaders tout, day in and day out, and come to the same conclusion. He may have seen something in the LGBTQ+ reflected in him, that which he was taught to hate about himself.
The LGBTQ+ community lives in a constant state of fear of violence and it is time that we, as a country, demand more from our so-called leaders. If your religion doesn’t lead you to love others more, then you need a new one. If your politicians can’t create an environment of inclusivity and equality for all, because of their own ineptitude, then vote them out of office. If we want to decrease the amount of gun violence in America, gun rights activists have to understand that common sense legislation and the right to bear arms are not mutually exclusive. Most importantly, we have to stop seeing people as “other” and start seeing each individual as part of the greater whole, as part of ourselves. We have to start being the change we wish to see in the world.