Orlando: A Message to Faith Defenders and Larger Implications for the LGBTQ+ Community
June 15, 2016
A reflection on the horrific events of June 12th, 2016, and the reactions to them.
Waking up to the news of the Orlando shooting on Sunday set off a chain of emotions within myself. I was shocked. I was angry. I cried. I was angry again, so on forth and so forth. The Pulse shooting has weighed very heavily on my mind since the moment I read the news, and I feel that there is so much to say about this event. This tragedy, that resulted in the deaths of 49 innocent individuals, provides commentary on so many of today’s issues that narrowing it down to just one or two, as I’ve seen many on the internet do, does not in any way do it, or the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, justice. That being said, I am in no way claiming to cover all of these issues in this post, but I do want to reflect and share my own thoughts on this tragedy, and perhaps provide some perspective on two of the aspects that I have yet to see covered.
Two issues that aren’t taking over the conversation on my Texas-driven Facebook feed, and seem to be missing from the dominant media narrative, are the actual influence of religion on this event, and what the larger implications are for the LGBTQ+ community.
On Sunday, before the detail of the shooter’s ISIS pledge came to light, his father was quick to comment that his son’s actions had nothing to do with religion, and instead were because he was angered by seeing two men kiss in Miami. Because that’s so much better, right? But we’ll get back to that.
The first part of the statement did what I saw so many others do that day: immediately defend the faith, immediately come forward to claim that these actions are not what their religion is about, which is understandable. People do not want to be associated with these types of acts of violence (in their own heads and to the greater public), and ultimately people of the Islamic faith are a marginalized minority who already have to deal with these violent stereotypes and stigmas; I can’t blame them for wanting to dissociate themselves from this attack and homophobia overall. But to claim that your faith is one where an overwhelming majority of the members (whether Muslim or Christian) love, tolerate, and would never want to harm or discriminate against an LGBTQ+ person is not by any circumstance the truth, hell, it’s far from it. And while claiming such may work to defend the faith, it perpetuates a bigger problem.
What other factors play into the hatred of LGBTQ+ people other than religious ones? Can you think of one reason that doesn’t in one way or another root back to religion? Any argument that doesn’t fall if you take away the religious aspect? I’ll give you a moment.
Couldn’t find one? Me neither.
Simply claiming that your faith does not hate LGBTQ+ individuals, does not address or fix the people of your faith that do. If anything it just denies and attempts to belittle their existence. And they exist. They’ve existed every single day before June 12th, 2016, and they will continue to exist next week when Facebook profile pictures no longer have a cute little pride flag on them. They are parents that have kicked their queer children to the streets. They are legislators who run on an anti-LGBTQ platform and vote for anti-gay legislation. They are people who last week were demonizing transgender people by pushing so-called “bathroom bills” and those who last year were sharing anti-same-sex marriage posts. They are the protesters at pride parades. They are all of these people, and so many more. And brushing them off by saying “well, they aren’t a real Muslim” or “they aren’t a real Christian” may make you feel better, but it doesn’t actually make them any less homophobic, nor does it make their actions any less damaging.
I’m not going to get into if the religions themselves, specifically Abrahamic religions, are homophobic or not, because that’s not the point here. The point is that if you are religious and claim to support the LGBTQ+ community, instead of stepping forward to defend your faith’s tolerance, actually support the community. There are already a lot of people standing up to simply defend their own religion. Quite frankly, it’s a lot easier. Instead, recognize that there are people in your faith who are not tolerant, who are hateful. Those people are real, and every person within this affected community is well aware of them. Recognize them, and call them out. Call them out when they say homophobic things, when they preach that homosexuals need to change, and when they encourage the election of homophobic politicians. If you want to post about your love, and your faith’s love, put your actions where your post is. If you can recognize, admit, and work to change the problems within your religion and its members, it will mean and do more than any Facebook prayer ever could.
Onto the second part of the gunman’s father’s statement: Omar was angered by two men kissing.
What is the message being sent here? That if you show affection for your partner in public, someone might be set off and go off their rocker and resort to violence. But this is true only if you’re gay of course—heterosexual PDA is still fine.
Being queer means that public displays of affection, and often just existing in public, are almost always a potential threat. LGBTQ+ individuals have to be hyper-aware of their surroundings and actions because there is always the chance that someone around you will confront you either verbally or physically.
But you know where existing while queer doesn’t feel like a threat? Set, queer spaces such as gay clubs and pride events. And people fought for decades just to have a single place where they could finally feel safe, where they did not have to worry that existing while queer could potentially result in the death penalty. In one day, Sunday, this was tainted. When Omar Mateen stepped into Pulse, Orlando’s largest gay club, and opened fire, it sent a message: “you’re not safe here, either.”
One of my first thoughts after learning about Orlando on Sunday was “great, now that this door is open, how many pride parades are going to be attacked this year?” Low and behold, also on Sunday, a man was arrested for plans to bomb and open fire on LA Pride.
While there is no evidence that the events were connected by anything more than the day and the targeted community, what does this mean for LGBTQ+ people as a whole? It means that my “almost always a potential threat” comment earlier is now transformed to “it’s always a threat.” It is a threat that community members must be vigilant about. It means that choosing to go to a gay club will now be a weighted decision, because queer-inclusive spaces are set targets of violence. It means that going to pride is a point of fear for many, despite being an event to display strength. It means that when queer teens come out to accepting parents, those parents will now be scared to let them be a part of their community, and so much more.
In the United States, existing while queer has always been an act of bravery. It is a matter of standing up and being who you are despite the potential consequences of things like isolation from your family, refusal of service, unemployment, beatings, and death. For many who are not a part of this community, these things are largely invisible. I hope that is part of the takeaway here: physical violence is only one of many problems the LGBTQ+ community faces, problems that were in no way solved by the marriage equality ruling. The existence of this community will continue to be an act of bravery, and I hope that is something that more people truly recognize.
The lack of religious criticism and lack of comprehensive empathy for the LGBTQ+ community were two things I overwhelmingly saw as missing in most of the posts and articles I read, but they’re two of the most important. Orlando was a tragedy. LA Pride could have been. Neither event should be forgotten, and both have their own implications and damage.
Stay safe everyone.
About the Author: London SnedenLondon is a senior at Sam Houston State University. She is a sociology major, political science minor, and aspring law student. Her passions include public policy, law, and keeping religion far, far away from both of them. She has been the president of the Secular Student Alliance at her university since the end of her freshman year, and is currently one of our interns here at CFI On Campus!
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