One kiss and 50 bodies: The Orlando shooting is a reminder that gay people are still hated

This isn’t the time to channel our grief into defending the US state, this is about coming out in solidarity with the LGBTQ community

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Independent Voices

“There were bodies everywhere,” Christopher Hansen told reporters following the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay club in downtown Orlando, in the early hours of the morning. “In the parking lot, they were tagging them – red, yellow – so they knew who to help first (…) Pants down, shirts cut off, they had to find the bullets. Just blood everywhere.” 

The first shots sounded at 02:00, swiftly followed by panicked messages on social media by those trapped inside as the horror unfolded. The Pulse Facebook page sent out a warning: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Not everyone succeeded, and the massacre lasted for three hours until a Swat team killed the assailant and freed 30 hostages still inside. This is the deadliest mass shooting in recent US history, killing 50 and hospitalising a further 53.

The killer has been identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man from Fort Pierce in Florida. Links to radical jihadi ideology have been suggested, though remain unconfirmed. When NBC contacted Mateen’s father, he recalled his son’s fury after seeing two men kiss in Miami a few months ago, thinking there might be a link. One kiss, 50 dead. As details have emerged, and death tolls have doubled from initial estimates, the LGBTQ community worldwide has been reminded, once again, that we are not safe. 

Snapchat audio captures Orlando gunman shooting

Instead of coming out and facing the stark reality of LGBTQ hate crimes for people of all religions and ethnicities, we have the same tired Islamaphobic vitriol. Look to Trump’s tweet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

This continues to ignore the violence we face on a daily basis – whether that is the trans woman of colour raped and left for dead, the gay man beaten to a pulp, or the structural failings of the state that leave LGBTQ teenagers with no basic sexual education ashamed and suicidal. The best we get is to have pictures of US embassies flying Pride flags across the world. 

This isn’t the time to make this about defending the US state, this is about defending the LGBTQ community. Make no mistake, the state is no ally, and bigots of all political hues still stalk the political landscape. Florida still has no hate crime legislation pertaining to attacks on the grounds of gender identity, and the state’s blood ban on sexually active gay and bisexual men remains a reminder of our difference, and our division. It might be gay blood congealing on Orlando’s streets, but it won’t be gay blood replenishing and revitalising the friends and lovers we have lost. Talk about this on your social media, not about the killer's religion and keeping America safe. 

Queerphobia is no relic of a bygone era: it exists from the vigilante attacker on the street through to the hallowed institutions of Congress and the Senate. What drives these attacks is the same hate that drives Republic governors to pass bills removing LGBTQ non-discrimination rights in North Carolina, the same prejudice that makes our blood unviable. Orlando is only an exception in magnitude, not an incident entirely without parallel and precedent. 

So straight people, we need your solidarity. We need you to challenge the bile of the right-wing media, to step in when you see us harassed or attacked, to push for comprehensive LGBT education in schools, and to support our charities and spaces. We need you, as the majority, to forge a society in which we are not merely tolerated, but accepted and embraced, and where repugnant bigots like Mateen have no space to prosper.