The city of Boston is no stranger to tragedy.
Just three years ago, in 2013, our city suffered a large-scale terrorist attack at the annual Boston Marathon in April. Three people died. Another 264 other people were injured.
Terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombing have almost become archetypes for pure evil; they are unfathomably cruel, heartless, senseless and they are extremely difficult to absorb. They are impossible to understand. But they have become disturbingly routine.
On June 12, Omar Mateen murdered 49 people and wounded 53 at a nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, FL. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Like the Boston Marathon bombers, Mateen was reportedly motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs, though not directly connected to any known terrorist groups. Like Adam Lanza, the man behind the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Mateen was described as mentally ill. Like the San Bernardino shooters in 2015, Mateen used an AR-15 Rifle.
And just like every time our country is shaken by such tragedy, there was an outpouring of support from the surrounding community: the Sunday of the shooting, more than 5,300 people donated blood through the OneBlood network in Orlando, which broke a single day record. Also in a single day, a GoFundMe campaign set up to support the victims of the shooting raised over $3.3 Million. Counseling and grief services were set up all over the state.
It’s always worth noting that even in the face of pure evil, people with good hearts refuse to back down.
But it’s also worth noting what community and togetherness means when the tragedy impacts such a specific subset of our country’s population.
It should not be lost on us that this act of terrorism was also an act of violence specifically targeting a minority group. Pulse is a gay nightclub, and in discussing this particular massacre, we must acknowledge the intersections of violence present in it.
This massacre did not exist in a vacuum, but in a country whose political figures and leading journalists openly advocate in favor of queer hatred and against LGBTQ rights.
This June, LGBTQ Pride month, was the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. It was a huge stride forward in the fight for equal rights, but we cannot afford to pretend that it marked the end of a struggle. Homophobia is alive and well.
And yet, many people will simply refuse to acknowledge the homophobic aspect of the Orlando shooting, preferring to claim that this was an attack on freedom or fun or simply on “all of us.”
On June 15, gay journalist Owen Jones walked out of a live television interview on Sky News after trying to explain the lack of LGBTQ voices and acknowledgement following the attack: “it is one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the western world for generations and it has to be called out as such,” Jones said.
Host Mark Longhurst asserted that the attack was aimed at “human beings” who were “trying to enjoy themselves, whatever their sexuality."
Co-host Julia Hartley-Brewer told Jones, “I don’t think that you have ownership of horror, of this crime, because you’re gay.”
Attempting to deny the LGBTQ community its right to grieve and express unique understanding of the victims is immoral and inexcusable; it only contributes to the erasure of America’s systematically disenfranchised voices.
This is the same phenomenon that sees men attempt to tell a woman when she has or has not been raped, or to decide the rights she has over her own body. It is the same phenomenon that permits white people to dictate the terms of racism. Minority groups in the U.S. have a history of being silenced while their narratives are written by the societally favored; while dozens of people attending Latin night at a gay club are gunned down.
The thing is, you can’t tell women, people of color or the LGBTQ community to “stay safe.” These groups have no choice in their safety. As long as bigotry exists, marginalized people will live in fear.
A Facebook post by Texas resident Alex Darke went viral the day after the shooting. It begins, “Earlier today, a friend remarked: ‘I don't understand. The way you are reacting, it's almost like you knew someone in the club.’”
It goes on to describe the daily risk that LGTBQ people face simply by living their lives: “If I kiss Matt in public…there's a tension that comes with that...a literal tensing of the muscles as you brace for potential danger. For a lot of us, it's become such an automatic reaction that we don't even think about it directly anymore.”
We can call the tragedy in Orlando a terrorist attack, a massacre, a mass shooting, another failure of our country’s gun laws, but we mustn’t forget to also call it was it is: homophobia, bigotry and a hate crime.
For the LGBTQ community, it was a reminder of how there are people in this country—and all over the world—who would find it acceptable to end someone’s life because of who that person loves. It was a poignant moment of “that could have been me.”
We live in a country where the only thing standing between someone committing a mass murder or not is whether he feels like it.
Listening to LGBTQ voices is important now more than ever. As a country and as human beings, we have an obligation and a right to feel sadness and compassion towards the victims and their families. But in the face of pure evil, in the face of bigotry alive and well, we must show respect for the communities that have been forced to carve their own places in society—their own refuges from disapproval or hostility.
For Daniel Leon-Davis, Pulse was a “safe haven…where I learned to love myself as a gay man.” For Richard Kim, “gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them.” For Alfred Soto, mourning the dead in Orlando means “continuing their work — which is to say, by continuing their play. Only when we’re dancing can we feel this free.”
Read the victims’ names. Don’t forget them. Don’t erase their identities. Honor them by remembering them as people, but more importantly, by people who deserved better.
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons.