Una Mullally: Orlando killings are an attack on all LGBT people
If you walk into a gay club during Pride month and murder gay people, then that’s about as homophobic as you can get
For many LGBT people around the world, seeing other LGBT people gunned down in Orlando is akin to seeing their countrywomen and men killed. We should of course have empathy for all people who suffer anywhere, but the fact is, things resonate much more acutely when those things happen to people who are just like you, in places just like the ones you go to. What happened in Orlando is an act of homophobic mass murder, it is therefore also an act of terror, it is also an indictment of the lack of gun control in America. But this guy - and I don’t want to write his name - sought out LGBT people to kill in an LGBT space.
The world needs to acknowledge how some people are more hated than others. There is a difference between gunning random people down, and seeking out a subset of people for whom you wish to target with murderous rage. To deny that hate, or to subsume it into another narrative, denies its roots in society. To deny that hurt, denies a community.
If this guy wanted to kill American citizens (like himself!) he could have done so anywhere. As the media’s reflex automatically reaches for an Islamic terrorist narrative, we must examine the facts of what we know about his motivation and actions. If your father says you were disgusted by men kissing, if your co-worker says you hated gay people, if you buy guns and walk into a gay club during Pride month and murder gay people, then that’s about as homophobic as you can get. It is important to allow LGBT people to grieve and to vocalise their empathy and condemnation of this mass murder of people from their community, and for others to understand it is an act of violence committed against them. We can all feel sad and shocked and horrified, but this slaughter will resonate more with the LGBT community in Orlando the most, in Florida, across southern states, in America as a whole, and then in LGBT communities all around the world.
The LGBT community is very familiar with violence perpetrated against them. It is a daily experience all over the world. Homophobia is on a spectrum, from those who contest LGBT rights, to street harassment, to violent attacks, to mass murder. It is rooted in hatred. We have to acknowledge that there are people in the world disgusted by the existence of LGBT people, and that all homophobia has consequences. In fact, it kills.
The misguided, and sometimes well-meaning, usurping of LGBT people’s experiences and reactions is part of what is sometimes an unconscious - and sometimes very conscious indeed - narrative that treats the world as “all things being equal”, when it is not. I can have endless empathy for black Americans killed by police, but I will never be able to truly know how that feels as an African-American. I have huge empathy for the Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who grew exasperated and walked off a Sky News set as the presenter and co-panellist tried to effectively play down the homophobic nature of the mass murder, and wrangle his perspective and experience and insight as a gay man from him. It was a vivid example of how gay people are shouted down when we try to make our voices heard.
Homophobia isn’t the preserve of one single religion or belief system. It is a hatred that brutally crosses boundaries. That homophobia can be intersectional, as people are victims of homophobias that are rooted in many ideologies and sentiments; from the gay men thrown off buildings by ISIS, to the lesbians raped in South African townships by homophobic misogynists, to the Catholic fundamentalists who oppose LGBT equality. If you have never experienced homophobia, you are less likely to recognise it or to know how it feels than someone who has.
That this horror to occurred in a gay club during Pride compounds the brutal misery and pointed nature of the attack. Gay bars and clubs are different to other bars and clubs because of their intrinsic importance in the LGBT community as safe havens, places of social refuge where we find ourselves and each other on the dance floors, where we can be ourselves inside when the world outside often doesn’t allow us that expression. They are where we gather, find friends, lovers, comrades, and where we feel at home.
In many countries that afford LGBT people rights, Pride is now seen as a celebration, but it is also a protest, and a political act of visibility. LGBT people have to put up with snideness and “why do they have to be so in your face?” comments about such visibility. Eight years ago this month, a bomb threat was phoned into The George bar in Dublin during Pride. In Kiev on Sunday a thousand people walking in Ukraine’s first major Pride march had to be protected by several thousand police officers while far-right homophobes threatened a bloodbath. I could go on and on about the cases of LGBT people being murdered, tortured, hunted, bullied, harassed, beaten, and who kill themselves out of hopelessness.
As families, friends, and communities come to terms with this unspeakable savagery, LGBT people will inevitably respond how they always have in the face of violence and homophobia; with love, by gathering together, by saying: we are family. And by acknowledging that whatever strain homophobia comes from, it is all virulent and vicious, and must be fought and opposed in all its forms, from the slightest to this terrifying new level of brutality. Rest In Power.