Lewis Sloan, Contributor
Next month marks the one year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. On June 12th 2016, Omar Mateen entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire to deadly affect. On that day, and the weeks following, the news was flooded with the grim details of the night. 50 people dead. 53 injured.
I recall being unable to hold back tears as the BBC aired text messages one of the victims had sent to his mum, while hiding in a stall in the bathroom – the bathroom that Mateen would later enter and open fire. Such fear the victim must have felt, I thought. Imagine being that mother. So unable to help save someone she had brought into this world – powerless.
Owen Jones, a journalist and author, was accused of ‘storming’ out of a Sky News debate because the people he had been debating with seemed to refuse to acknowledge this as a homophobic attack. It was an “attack on all people having the freedom to go out and enjoy partying”. I paraphrase the words of a sky news reporter at the time, in rebuttal to Jones referring to the event as an “attack on the LGBT community”.
Obviously, although at the time we were not certain, this was proven to be an act of extremist terrorism. But does that automatically mean that it is not also a homophobic attack? Why did news outlets and the public then, and now, seem to want to discard the fact that this was a homophobic hate crime?
My father, as I entered the living room a few days later, turned to me and said “It seems now that they’re thinking what he did was not a hate crime, but a terrorist attack, in the name of ISIS.”
I could feel my blood running hot for a moment.
Why can’t it be both? If it were a Jewish synagogue this gunman had stormed into and killed all inside, as Jones pointed out, it would have been both an act of terrorism AND an anti-Semitic attack.
I didn’t, and still do not fully understand why people seem to want to totally dismiss the fact that it had been LGBT people that had been killed. It seems inconsequential to some that it was a gay bar that Mateen had targeted.
The bar chosen was not a coincidence. In this instance, it was a specific attack on this group of people. I’m sure the attacker had many motives but he ultimately decide on that venue. In the coming weeks, as the news cycles turn their attention to Orlando once again, this erasure will undoubtedly be found again in reports.
The reality is, this event does not just go down in history with a long list of religiously motivated terrorist attacks. It also joins the list of countless brutalities LGBT have suffered for centuries for not fitting it, for their same-sex desire, for not being CIS gendered etc.
The attack joins the likes of 9/11. But it also joins the likes of the murder of Charlie Howard, or Chay Reed, or Matthew Shepard, of the victims of the bar-bombing in Atlanta in 1997. To dismiss its connection with them is to diminish the struggle and threat of violence that LGBT people, especially LGBT people of colour (we cannot discount the fact that the club was hosting ‘Latin night’) have been facing for years.
By avoiding, and at times erasing the LGBT aspect of these individuals’ identities, we are avoiding and erasing the grievances, abuse and murder suffered by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
By discounting this, we discount the boy who was told that the severe homophobic bullying he is suffering in school is just the result of “boys being boys”. By discarding this, we discard the transwoman who is told she is being “too sensitive” when suffering verbal abuse on the street as she tries to get to work.
By avoiding this we discount the true nature of the name-calling, the threats, the violence. By discounting this we forget that by the time an LGBT person is hiding in a nightclub bathroom, waiting for what is to be their final moment, that in a way, they may have been here before, many times in their life. They’ve seen and lived with lesser, but still destructive versions of this hate and violence behind the gun that is to end their life. By refusing to call this what it is: both an Islam extremist terrorist and a homophobic attack, we risk forgetting that by the time the person sends a final text message to their mum to tell them they love her, that painfully, perhaps this fear isn’t so new after all.