I try to avoid the news as much as I can these days. I didn’t check my phone or even see Facebook all day last Sunday so I didn’t hear about the shooting in Orlando until Monday morning. I saw a headline on someone’s paper about a shooting in a gay club, and was gripped by the same awful fear as after the Paris attacks or the Sandy Hook shooting or any of these other horrible, senseless crimes. I was particularly frightened because a friend had her hen do at a gay club in central London that night – but of course in America it’s so much easier to just pick up an assault rifle and massacre innocent people so I wasn’t surprised that it turned out to be in Orlando, USA. As soon as I got to work I went onto Facebook, thinking I would be very behind the news and there would be endless messages of support and that my news feed would be covered in profile pictures with rainbow backgrounds.
I was surprised to find after scrolling through a few dozen statuses and articles that only one friend seemed to have changed to the rainbow flag. I was confused but then remembered the backlash the last time we all changed our flags after the Paris attacks, with people claiming there should also be a flag to support Lebanon, or Syria, or the other places seeing horrendous attacks against innocent people far more frequently than we have them in the West. I also wondered if people are just becoming numb to the shock of another shooting in the US. They are horrifyingly common, after all. And of course there are many ways of expressing support for the victims, their families and the LGBTQ community at large without painting a photograph in pretty colours. But I was surprised in general by the lack of attention the shooting was getting on my news feed. I was, to be fair, a day after the event, but whereas after the Paris attacks I had to limit my facebook exposure for several days because the outpourings of grief were so raw they made me extremely upset, this time it was for the most part business as usual, the standard statuses about this and that event from the weekend. There were also, which I can excuse to some extent, lots of postings about the EU referendum. It seems from these useless polls that the lies and inflammatory bullshit in the media are swaying people towards kicking the chair out from under themselves, and I can’t blame my friends for trying to persuade people to vote remain (although in the context of my friends list at least, I think I’d be preaching to the converted).
And yet. This wasn’t just another US shooting, or another IS attack, or even another attack on LGBTQ people. This was the worst US shooting ever. The man pledged allegiance to IS before shooting and they were gleeful in claiming responsibility but it is unclear as yet how much the man actually followed their beliefs and how much he was just a desperate and sick man who decided to say he was part of IS right at the last second – perhaps he thought what he was going to do would have greater impact if he wasn’t just one man alone. And this certainly wasn’t just another attack on LGBTQ people. This was the worst mass killing of gay people since the Holocaust.
The media coverage of the shooting did not make me any less confused in terms of how it was being reported. Owen Jones’s decision to walk off the Sky News set is already set to become legend, and when you see what he was putting up with, you cannot blame him. There were repeated attempts by both presenters to deflect attention from this being an LGBTQ hate crime. Let’s imagine for a moment that the shooting had been in a Catholic church. Even if it was attributed to IS there would still be full acknowledgement that this was a crime against Christians. People who tried to deflect that fact and say ‘well no, it was an attack against all people trying to practise their religion’ would be scorned. Julia Hartley-Brewer’s comment that the killer would have had similar issues with her as ‘a gobby woman’ were truly astonishing. We know from the fact he used to beat his wife that the man was also deeply misogynistic, but if he wanted to just kill a group of confident women I’m sure he could have found a venue to do so. And not liking women expressing their opinions is not the same as being repulsed and deeply angered by the sight of two men kissing, which Mateen was on a trip with his father. Even this was dismissed by the presenters – ‘that was months ago! I’m sure plenty of things have made him angry since then!’ – missing the point that the anecdote shows a revulsion towards gay people. But even then, why are we looking at that small incident and drawing from it, as if we need any more evidence? The fact he picked a gay club as the spot for his massacre makes it abundantly clear that they were his target, and I genuinely don’t understand why people are shying away from saying that’s what it was. Julia Hartley-Brewer has now written her own article explaining why she thinks the whole furore is ridiculous, and done nothing to calm an inflamed situation or bring the focus back to LGBTQ people by saying Owen Jones ‘may have more in common with IS than he thinks’. Ugh. I’ve watched the clip several times and I do see Owen Jones’s point. I think a lot of points could have been cleared up if they all allowed each other to finish their sentences, as a point Hartley-Brewer has since made that they were trying to explain his homophobia in terms of his religion did not come across to me at all. But it doesn’t alter the fact that several news outlets are not addressing the LGBTQ issue enough. Some papers, like The Daily Mail, didn’t even run the story on their front page on Monday morning, choosing instead to spread lies about immigration which I thought had been leaked last week and already proven wrong. I’m trying to imagine if they would have done the same if a different group had been targeted.
Let’s also imagine for a moment that he hadn’t mentioned IS during his 911 call. He was a Muslim so the link would have inevitably been drawn anyway, but by mentioning IS he has allowed news outlets to make this about the continuing war on terror, a fresh story in their favourite saga of unremittingly awful news. By making it immediately about the whole IS cause, and about the whole IS group, the LGBTQ community have been marginalised and half forgotten. ‘This wasn’t a gay hate crime! It was an IS crime!’ It can be both, and both need to be acknowledged and talked about. While we were all terrified of IS terrorist attacks before, the gay community will now be feeling doubly vulnerable. Attacks against parts of Western culture – going to concerts and sitting in restaurants – are terrifying in their normality, the feeling that they were picked at random simply as places that would have a lot of people gathered in one place. We can’t all always avoid going to places where there are crowds, so there was little choice in continuing about our daily lives. But this attack is different. People out in Soho the following evening were second guessing their decision to go out. Now gay clubs are a target, even more so than they were before. If there is another attack in a gay club, will some people say that the party goers shouldn’t have gone out? That they knew the danger? I hope not but I am afraid that the thought would cross some people’s minds, in the same way people blamed the parents of a Indonesian girl who was gang raped and murdered while walking home. Apparently she shouldn’t have been let out on her own.
This attack highlights the challenges still faced in gaining equality for LGBTQ people around the world, as so many people continue to hate for no reason. In some countries it is still illegal, and I have crossed various places off my list of possible travel destinations because if one of my best friends came with me, he could be arrested at the gate because he is attracted to men more than women. People are still persecuted, people still face ridicule and bullying from their peers, and even in central London where you would think surely “anything goes”, people still struggle to come out to their parents. I don’t pretend to be able to speak for the LGBTQ community, being as I am a woman who has only had relationships with men. But I am a supporter of the cause and believe deeply in the equality of all people, as anyone should who has half a brain. It makes me so sad and so angry when people refuse to let people love. This is the most stupid thing about being homophobic – that the decision of other people about who they love is so far from being anybody else’s business. Love is love. And it is desperately important that this shooting is acknowledged as an LGBTQ hate crime, an attack on this community, and a mark of how far we still have to go. Some particularly sick individuals took to Twitter to say that this attack was a good thing, attacking ‘perverts’ rather than ‘innocent people.’ There are no words, other than fuck off you revolting pieces of shit.
The other thing about the media coverage which made me so angry was the reactions from politicians, mainly in the US and UK. David Cameron tweeted once saying his thoughts were with the victims and their families, and then went back to tweeting about the referendum. I can’t see that he has said anything else. Nothing about supporting the LGBTQ community in Britain, the specific nature of the attack, or another call for the US to sort out their gun laws. Jeremy Corbyn did better at least by going to Old Compton Street last night and showing his support very specifically for the people who will be feeling at their most vulnerable and exposed. Donald Trump of course lost no time in making the attacks about him and his campaign for the US presidency. I’m sure we all have the same feelings about this man by now, or at least I hope we do. He has gone from being a figure of fun to someone who sends such a surge of rage through me whenever I see his face that I am starting to fear for my blood pressure. I’m not laughing anymore, although perhaps I should – perhaps he is like a Boggart and will only be stopped by people laughing at him and exposing him for the pointless shapeless bag of hot air that he is. It was his comments that angered me the most, claiming that his shooting proved him ‘right’ that they need to stop the migration of Muslims into the US. I am so angry and upset that such a hateful crime is being used to spread more hate, more anger, more unfounded persecution of the Muslim population at large. I am terrified by the unthinking racism of his supporters, as I am by the unthinking xenophobia of the people in Britain who are voting to leave the EU. It shows this awful superiority complex, this belief that we in the US or Britain are better than all the others and if we could only somehow be left alone we would all be happy special snowflakes. It is total bollocks and at a time when the world is tearing itself apart in so many ways, I am flabbergasted that people can’t see that being more unified, that having more conversations, more connections to one another, is the best way to survive and prosper.
Amidst all this sadness and horror there are always heartwarming stories. The number of people who went to Old Compton Street to sing and join hands last night. The people who went to the blood banks in Orlando after a call for blood, so many that there were then volunteers supplying the queue with food and water, and so many that in the end some were told to come back later in the week. The man who was at the gay club who told a news reporter that the killer had ‘picked the wrong community to mess with.’
I don’t tend to write political posts, but I felt in this case it was important for me to add my voice to the others around the world. I am full of disbelief, rage, and sadness, but I am also full of love and support for all the LGBTQ people who are now feeling more fearful than ever. I am in no way suggesting that this was ‘worse’ than the attacks in Paris, or anywhere else, as it doesn’t work that way. Every single crime against innocent people is horrendous. But this attack was different, and everyone needs to acknowledge that this is a dreadful benchmark in our history. I wonder if some people don’t know what to say, either because it’s too awful for words or because they feel that in some way gay people are the ones who own this grief. Julia Hartley-Brewer suggested that was what Owen Jones was trying to do, but he wasn’t. He was saying it was difficult for anyone who wasn’t gay to understand how much this attack is different, because it is a direct attack on LGBTQ people and their ways of life. I see that and I grieve with everyone else. Everyone should be joining together now more than ever to show that, to quote Dumbledore, ‘though we come from different places and speak in different tongues, (and love different people), our hearts beat as one.’ If you don’t feel you know what to say, just say #loveislove. Or link Owen Jones’s article in The Guardian. Or a news piece. Or this blog. I sincerely hope that this horror doesn’t breed more hate, or indifference, or embarrassment about discussing gay politics, but that it shows the world how much we have to fight for, and that the progress some places have made is fragile – and that it is not enough.