The first thing my husband said to me Sunday morning was, “Have you seen the news?” The look on his face told me it would be bad. Because my job requires me to have a near-constant connection to social media, I usually allow myself to unplug on Sundays. It’s my feeble attempt at work/life balance in the age of tweets and likes. And after a week of talking about the Stanford rapist, I was more than ready to have even just 24 hours of peace.
They say there’s no rest for the wicked. It certainly felt that way as I scrolled through the news of the Orlando shooting. In the deadliest mass shooting in American history, 49 are dead and 53 wounded after a terrorist went into Pulse nightclub, a gay club celebrating Latin night, and started firing.
The American-born terrorist, Omar Mateen, has claimed this act of violence in the name of ISIS, of which the group has also taken responsibility.
As fast as the shots were fired and the heartbreak of dozens of families started to echo across the internet, there was also the swift zealotry. In this case, sometimes dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric. Because the way to answer a hate crime against Latinos and LGBTQ individuals is … by hating another marginalized group of people. What was that famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Something about hate driving out hate …? No wait, that can’t be right. In all seriousness, what I will say about anti-Muslim fear-mongering is that the actions of one corrupted terrorist do not reflect any religion or its adherents. This should be obvious, but it is clearly not. Just like the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado does not reflect my own Christian beliefs, Mateem’s actions do not represent Muslims — or Muslim LGBTQ people. Period.
I am heartened by the reaction of not only those in the Orlando community, but those all across the country. People lined up to donate blood and donate more than $2 million to a crowd-funding campaign to help victims and their families. There’s a local real estate agent giving victim’s families free places to stay and an airline offering free airfare to victim’s families and partners. (Click here for more details and links on any of that and more.) Cities across the country lit up big things with colors — such as our own Linq — and communities held candlelight vigils.
Here in Las Vegas the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada held a vigil Sunday night and I saw reports of a similar vigil at UNLV on Monday evening. Still, even as folks talked unity, there was a dust-up on social media as those live-tweeting the Sunday vigil documented what seemed to be tone-deaf remarks by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. According to several people at the vigil, the mayor characterized being LGBTQ as “a lifestyle choice” and cautioned against knee-jerk gun control — before the crowd started to boo her off the stage. Goodman answered her critics on twitter saying, “My remarks at tonight’s vigil were meant to remember the victims and support the LGBT community. Not the time/place for political arguments.”
I wasn’t at the vigil, but I will say this: It’s 2016. Stop calling LGBTQ individuals and their lived experience a lifestyle. Or a choice. Full stop. Forever and ever. The end.
It’s a bad time to stick your foot in your mouth, as emotions are running high. My initial reaction to the shooting was anger. I’m still angry. I’m tired of writing posts like this. I felt angry that I knew there would be horrible anti-Muslim and and-LGBTQ rhetoric. I also continue to feel anger that otherness — whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or whatever else — is still used as an excuse to kill people. It’s a reminder that queerness and being transgender is dangerous. It’s a reminder of fragile masculinity. And it’s a reminder that there will be people who will use otherness as an excuse to not care. As heartened as I am by the out-pouring of love for Orlando and the LGBTQ community, you know that there are assholes somewhere saying that the shooting wouldn’t have happened if the people at that club weren’t queer or trans. They will say that LGBTQ people bring violence and hate and death upon themselves. They will say that even if the terrorist acted outside the law, his actions were in some way understandable because homophobia/racism/transphobia … et al.
Part of me wishes that we could move past having to label people before we can have compassion for people. I want to be able to write about the Orlando shooting as a terrible, tragic act of terrorism that has nothing to do with what sexual orientation, gender, or race the people were. It should be equally horrifying regardless of a person’s identity. Because people being killed should be horrifying enough — no qualifiers needed. But that’s not the world we live in and, if I’m being honest, it is a kind of erasure rooted in my white, cisgender privilege. I acknowledge that. If there is one unifying theme for the hundreds of mass shootings that have happened since Sandy Hook — when a mass shooter killed children — it is that in no time flat Americans will go back to their lives and stop caring. If you are not personally affected by the threat of violence in your everyday life by being LGBTQ, non-white, non-binary, or any other kind of otherness, you will just go back to playing smartphone games while waiting in line at Starbucks without a second thought to hate crimes or safe spaces. Why? Privilege. If you won any part of the white, cisgender, heteronormative societal lottery of privilege, all this messy horror will go back to being far removed from your life.
Here’s what I ask of you: Don’t. Don’t turn away.
The reality is all of these oppressions ARE a part of your everyday life. You are walking by them without noticing them all the time. You are shielded from them because your social media feeds only look exactly like you. You can turn on the TV and everyone looks like you. Pick up a magazine and everything is made for you. What I am asking for you to do is to expand your tunnel vision outside of your own life — not because you have a gay friend or there’s one black guy at work. Do it because it shouldn’t take tragedy to startle you into seeing what is happening all around you all the time. Do it because it is not the job of others to educate you about your own privilege. Do it because — despite what majority culture might have you believing — every single person is not white, heterosexual and cisgender.
Let me help you get started: If you don’t know what any of the words I’ve used in this post mean, look them up.
Then keep going.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons