On Pulse and Pride

When you hear of Gay Pride, remember, it was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay. It evolved out of our need as human beings to break free of oppression and to exist without being criminalized, pathologized or persecuted… Instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride, be grateful you have never needed one.
— Anthony Venn-Brown

The horrific story of America’s largest mass shooting to date has been on everyone’s mind, tongue, and Facebook feed. Every other post on social media declares solidarity with the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and their respective families; every other article skimmed tries to make sense of the groundless violence, the unfathomable persecution of 103 people, 50 lost to this world forever.

Something that has become clear in this microcosm of opinions and information is the resistance of some, in both the private and the public spheres, to label this a hate crime, to acknowledge that a gay club was not chosen at random – to acknowledge that these people were targeted and killed as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Florida's own governor, Rick Scott, went on CNN and refused to even say "gay" or "LGBT" once, much less admit that the shooter's target was indeed that community; he instead wanted to "frame the attack as one against 'America'." The victims were indeed Americans, but given the location and the fact the shooter’s father directly admitted that his son was driven to volatile anger when he saw two men kissing, there can be no denying that this was an intentionally homophobic act. And refusing to acknowledge it is dangerous, especially considering this is June.

The month of June is recognized across the United States as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, originally conceived as a yearly remembrance of the Stonewall riots that lit the spark of the country’s Gay Liberation Movement. Parades and love explode during this month in an effort to make those who usually feel isolated and shameful for their sexual orientation or gender identification feel the opposite. Pride is a time of year for those in its vast community to come together and be unashamedly themselves, without inhibitions or judgment.

Or fear.

This is a month meant to be dedicated to a celebration of freedom and affirmation, and it has been totally eclipsed by a dark reminder of the cost of such freedom. The history of the LGBTQ+ people is, unfortunately, riddled with this sort of hateful violence. In June of 1973, another Pride month 43 years ago, a popular gay bar in New Orleans was purposely set aflame; 32 people lost their lives, and even more lost their loved ones, yet the arsonist and murderer was never brought to justice. This article notes that this incident, termed the “Upstairs Lounge Fire,” was the “largest killing of gays in U.S. history.”

Fast forward to June 12, 2016.

Many people, if hesitant to acknowledge the slaughter of a group on the grounds of their sexual orientation, have wasted no time in condemning another group based on their religion. The shooter at Pulse has been confirmed as Omar Mateen, a member of the Muslim community, and of course, as soon as this information was released, people were tripping over themselves to see who could shout “typical radical Islamic extremism” first. To point to this as an act of terrorism, not a hate crime, as though the two are mutually exclusive. Mateen did indeed call 911 mid-attack in order to pledge his allegiance to ISIS, classifying this shooting as an act of terrorism, which is defined as "the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal." However, that legitimate classification does not cancel out who he chose to target for said act of terror. As a country, we could stand to be reminded again that terrorism has no religion and is not representative of the entire Muslim community, that other religious groups have tortured and killed LGBTQ+ people in the name of their respective religions, and that focusing on pinning Mateen's acts on the already marginalized American Muslim community misses the point entirely.

The point is that this man was homophobic.

The point is that this man was allowed to purchase an AR-15 rifle, a gun originally made with the sole purpose of efficiently killing as many people as quickly as possible, after being investigated for extremism by the FBI in 2013.

The point is that silence on or omission of the victims’ status as LGTBQ+ Americans is equal to a complicity in their persecution, because it is for this very reason that they were persecuted.

The point is that the deadliest mass shooting in the history of our country is an act of homophobia, and it’s not as much of a surprise as it should be.

The LGBTQ+ community has been swept under the rug for years, but Pride was always a way of negating that. A way to scream “I’m here! I’m me! And I have every right to be!” And this chance has been overshadowed and destroyed by violence in Orlando that was the exact antithesis of Pride. We hope that through this grief will come unity, understanding, and tolerance, but it can only come to those willing to listen.

Feature photo by Valeria Boltneva/ VIA Pexels.