Omar Mateen Committed LGBT Mass Murder. We Must Confront That.
The media and politicians are in retreat from calling Omar Mateen’s massacre an act of anti-LGBT hate. Especially in Pride month, this erasure must not happen.
There was a massacre at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando on Sunday. But you might not have known that, if you read some of the initial accounts by outlets like The New York Times. The word “gay” wasn’t mentioned in headlines at first—a meaningful early signal of a wider denial that bloomed Sunday in the media, and on the part of commentators, as the story of Omar Mateen’s dreadful massacre continued to unfold.
As it does, a man in Los Angeles has been arrested, allegedly on his way to the city’s Pride parade in West Hollywood, armed with assault rifles and explosive devices.
Whether LGBTs are coming under sustained, or any kind of co-ordinated attack during Pride month is unknown. There has been no specific threat received in New York, James P. O’Neill of the NYPD told CBS News.
What needs to be repeated over and over again, and interrogated, is that the largest mass shooting in American history was an attack on gay people, LGBT people—politicians and lawmakers must say that, confront that, call it by its terrible, rightful name.
On social media, there is not just grief but also anger on the part of LGBT people, not just at the terrible loss of life, but of the erasure of LGBT people from a narrative that is centered on them, that has been visited upon LGBTs during Pride month. Those marches—in recent times, customized as “celebration”—will become far more moving and indelibly political, and rightly so.
Only President Obama, in his moving and concise remarks at the White House, recognized this for what LGBTs feel in the marrow of their bones—that this was an attack on them, as well as an act of terror.
On television this morning, there has been no one calling Mateen’s massacre out as a dreadful act of violence against LGBT people. It may be an “act of terror” as we keep hearing—and Mateen radicalized by ISIS, leading to his call to 911, stating his allegiance to ISIS as he carried out his attack.
But who was targeted exactly—and why? Why the resistance to saying it? If it was an act of terror, it was also a hate crime.
It is left to the moving testimonies of those affected to underscore who was attacked—of Pulse club-goer Shawn Royston, crying in a CBS News phone interview as he wondered why people “hate” so much that they would go to a club to kill people; and to the mother who is tearfully trying to locate her son, who was in the club. He had, she said proudly, set up a Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school.
Pulse was a club where LGBT people went to feel comfortable and have a good time; LGBT clubs exist because gay people need places to congregate because they were not welcome or comfortable elsewhere. They should be a “safe space,” a retreat, breathing space, refuge, dance paradise, fun house—not somewhere to be hurt or murdered.
This was a Latino LGBT night; there is, right now, a complete lack of engagement on the part of the media about any of this, and about the horror visited on the LGBT community. LGBT people have been killed in a place where they should feel safest, and the media—starting with The New York Times, which later added the “gay” qualifier to its headline—is rendering them invisible.
Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people. Their assassin was a man disgusted by the sight of two men kissing, his father told NBC News. This was a homophobic attack.
If politicians and Pope Francis are horrified by the mass shooting, if they condemn it as strongly as they do, they cannot just compartmentalize the fact it was targeted at LGBT people. So far, all their august statements on the attack have not mentioned that it was an attack on an LGBT club and its patrons.
ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos asked a reporter if Pulse was well-known as a “gay club,” as if there might be some mystery to this, some strange affix it had been endowed with. The mainstream media seems to be in fearful, nervous retreat from this.
They are not alone. Don’t expect certain members of the GOP, and others with prejudice and bigotry running in their bloodstream, to restate this was an attack on LGBT people, because how could they when their own platform and policies propagate exactly the kind of anti-gay hatred that seems to have led Mateen to do what he did.
From Donald Trump, via Twitter, this morning: “Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?”
“We pray for those brutally attacked in Orlando. While we must learn more about the attacker, the victims & families will not be forgotten,” tweeted Paul Ryan.
But of course, no mention of LGBT people, or that this was a gay club. Both Trump and Ryan have a pitifully lacking notion of what was attacked Sunday morning, and why those LGBT people were attacked.
The Pulse massacre may be the most extreme manifestation of homophobia, but violence is all too familiar to LGBT people, and it’s rooted in the legitimacy that anti-gay legislation gives it.
On CBS News and elsewhere, ISIS’s murderous homophobia is being emphasized as a possible root cause of Omar Mateen’s actions, and how ISIS spread their message via social media—the images of ISIS soldiers throwing gays to their deaths, and the like.
Who knows if Omar Mateen saw those images? Perhaps, perhaps not. What we know from his father is that his disgust came from seeing two men kiss on a street, right here in America. And Mateen’s homophobic disgust, often enacted in law and in despicable words, is shared by the Religious Right and GOP politicians.
Over the next hours and days, as LGBT people and homophobia may continue to be made surreally incidental to their own story, Omar Mateen will also likely be made 'the other'--all will become a marshy soup of 'radicalization,' ISIS operatives,' and briefings by law enforcement sources.
But Omar Mateen’s anti-gay hatred wasn’t beamed in from Syria. It birthed and grew right here.
If both Trump and Ryan, and their colleagues, really want to ensure the “victims & families” will not be forgotten, they would do something to ensure their party stopped attacking LGBT people, they would actively fight for equality.
Please, no more “thoughts and prayers,” unless they come with a vocal recognition of this as an attack against LGBT people in an LGBT bar.
Please, no more talk of the Pulse as a “nightclub” without the word “gay” or “LGBT” attached to it.
Please, no more talk on this being an “attack on all of us” unless LGBT people are accorded the same rights as everyone else.
Please Marco Rubio, no more of your pieties about how dreadful an attack this is when you, like ISIS and the Pulse attacker, share a base desire against LGBT people, who see us as lesser than. You have spoken powerfully about why we do not deserve equality. You believe in discriminating against us. In future, when talking about the massacre, mention us by name, renounce your previous poisonous words against us—or just shut up. Your hypocrisy is sickening.
First, this was an attack on LGBT people, and second, the GOP has done everything in its power to make LGBT people, “the other,” not deserving of the same civil rights as straight Americans.
Certain GOP lawmakers and politicians, responsible for promoting discrimination and discriminatory legislation against LGBT people should be questioned and shamed too in every post-massacre interview—for it is their words and actions which ultimately give official legitimacy to the violent, bloody acts of killers like Omar Mateen.
We already hear the familiar repetition that Mateen was a “lone wolf.” He was in one sense—in that he killed 49 people and injured 53 others (at the time of writing) with a gun; but he is also—and this is far scarier, and a far bigger challenge for politicians and out culture to confront—far from a “lone wolf” in the disgust and prejudice he felt toward LGBT people.
The entire GOP platform is predicated on ensuring that LGBT people remain lesser in the eyes of the law.
Homophobia is not isolated. Homophobia thrums through our entire culture. Politicians use it to win votes, schoolkids practice it against each other, employers use it against employees. Homophobia is not isolated to the lone wolf, it thrives in the pack, and it thrives in the playbook of craven politicians.
Today, all of those politicians should feel shame, guilt, and complicity. They must be made to realize, and held to account, that their words and deeds cannot be isolated from Omar Mateen’s actions.
Instead of that necessary recognition, LGBT people will be braced instead to somehow be blamed for this. The religious fruitcakes and right-wing family groups and politicians will find a way.
We keep hearing of “best practices,” of ISIS preying on “troubled souls,” in willful denial that Omar Mateen didn’t have to alight on the wilder shores of radical Islamist social media for encouragement for his vile deeds.
The painful truth, the truth to be confronted and repeated, is that his homophobia was born in America, and fostered in America.
If politicians profess horror at Mateen’s actions, the most effective thing they could do would be to ensure that their children know there is nothing strange about two men kissing; that there is everything fine about loving whomever you choose to love; to strike down every anti-gay law on the statute books; to legislate for total equality; to fight homophobia and raise our young people to be accepting of all; and to never give another “religious freedom” law even two minutes of reading time.
There were so many straight voices commenting on television on Sunday morning, asking their usual agonized questions of what “we can do,” and beseeching we all “come together,” of gun laws, and of what the FBI will do, and the police will do, and how to stop people becoming radicalized.
All of this obscures the more painful, homegrown truth that Omar Mateen’s murderous homophobia seems to have been fed and watered in America.
There are no gay voices thus far on television. There is no one expressing the pain and shock that this should happen in this month of Pride festivals, the time of year dedicated to LGBT people expressing their strength and demand for equality openly.
The politicians and police huddled at microphones are silent on the fact that this was an attack on LGBTs. Nothing.
In Orlando, the ban on gay men donating blood remains in place—despite earlier reports to the contrary—which is particularly shaming on a day their LGBT friends, loved ones, and peers injured at Pulse urgently need it.
There are no voices yet expressing the pain of the LGBT people and LGBT people of color affected by this.
There is talk of the pain of families, which is immense and awful. How heartening it would be if this definition of “family” was expanded to the LGBT “family” that was attacked Sunday morning, of why clubs like Pulse are so vital for people who may have been rejected by families, or who have found alternative “families” of friends who gather to let loose and connect at venues like Pulse.
This will, as it always is with tragedies that affect us and the political, be left to LGBT people to state bluntly, to own, to process, to support one another, and to—as we have done throughout history—fight to assert our right to live equally. And to be heard, and to be represented.
Pride may be a “celebration,” as it is now relentlessly marketed as, but this year, after the appalling mass murder in Orlando, let it also be a statement of strength, and resistance. We thought we were past this. We are not.
The only good that can come out of the Orlando massacre is that it may shine a light on just how harmful and poisonously corrosive homophobia is, and how necessary, indeed urgent, equality and full social acceptance is.
For that, the straight media and straight body politic needs to acknowledge this as an LGBT tragedy, and one made right here in America.
For LGBTs, don’t do as Omar Mateen and his demented ilk would have us do. Don’t hide. Don’t be scared. Don’t retreat. Donate blood. Go to your Pride marches. Kiss your partners, kiss your friends, kiss strangers. Kiss them joyfully, heartily, kiss them in the sunshine, hold them tight in public, in the light. Declare yourselves. With Pride.