An American man bought two guns and, at the weekend, shot and killed 49 LGBT people, predominantly people of colour, and injured a further 53. The attack, at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando, has shocked and horrified many, leading to condemnation from governments, world leaders, and communities around the world.
This was a homophobic and transphobic attack, and it was also an act of terror. Those comparing it to the massacres in France and Belgium, as well as 9/11, have a point, but are also missing a crucial aspect of the philosophy behind the slaughter. The biggest gun attack in modern US history specifically targeted the LGBT community, and this is what straight people are failing to understand.
1. If you think you understand the implications, you probably don’t
Many people died, and many more were gravely injured, but there are consequences that extend beyond the immediate bloodbath.
The reality of attacking an LGBT nightclub means that some people have been outed, against their will, as well as terrorised. Some people only found out that their loved ones were gay when they found out they were dead, while other people survived the attack and will be afraid to even tell people that they were there.
In Florida, those who survived the attack and are forced to come out as a result could even legally lose their jobs as a result. And those gay men who turned up to give blood, desperate to help their community to recover from the violence, found themselves turned away thanks to a draconian, homophobic blood donation ban.
2. Gay venues are different
“The local gay disco is the place where you stop being the odd one out.” — Alex Petridis
The first time I walked into a gay nightclub, there was a seismic shift in my very-closeted mind. Seeing these people — my people — dancing together and kissing without fear or self-consciousness gave me a degree of reassurance that no amount of conversation or reading had done to that point.
Not at all the equivalent of going to a mainstream club or pub, LGBT venues allow us to be free of the “tiny little mental calculations we do over the course of our life” (Alex Darke) in order to avoid homophobic and transphobic persecution. We do these calculations in the street, at work, and on regular nights out automatically. But, in gay clubs, we relax a little and stop looking around ourselves to check for safety.
In a discussion with friends, the same themes about LGBT venues came up repeatedly: you don’t have to hide yourself, that DIY scenes deal with intersections, male dominance and other oppressions more effectively, you can avoid *those* men, they are places where you can be who you are, they are often the only spaces we have that serve that purpose, they are often inaccessible to disabled people, and they were hard fought-for and hard won by previous generations of LGBT activists.
Straight, cis people simply do not grasp the significance of these nightclubs and bars, as more than places where we can meet other people who have similar sexual identities. Yet the distinction is important to remember.
“While a lot of people turn to churches, LGBT communities are often forced to use nightclubs as our safe haven, and Pulse was mine.” Daniel Leon-Davis
3. We’re not ‘all LGBT’ now
LGBT people are having the attack straight ‘splained at us from every direction. Straight people need to understand that we do know what we are talking about, and that we have a devastatingly clear understanding of what happened at Pulse on Saturday night.
Journalist Owen Jones walked off the set of a Sky News discussion when the other journalists on the show refused to acknowledge the gay hate that this attack embodied.
On stating that Pulse was “one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the Western world for generations”, he was told by journalist Mark Longhurst, “It’s something that was carried out against human beings”, later adding that the attack was “on the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves”.
We are not “all LGBT” now, as one person told me. Nor was this attack on the freedom of all people.
Even when well-intentioned, these comments downplay the significance of the gay-hate aspect of the attack. The killer deliberately chose an LGBT club, and deliberately chose a Latinx night at the club, to focus his hate on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans people of colour. If we ignore this, we are erasing the identities of those who died and those who suffered.
If it was an “attack on all of us”, why are we still discriminated against? Why did a Moscow gay couple find themselves detained by police after leaving flowers and a placard at the US embassy in honour of the attack? Where have the straight people been until now, when homophobic and transphobic attacks, laws and policies have been so prevalent around the world?
4. This really, really was a hate crime and it really, really was political
Earlier this year, the UK’s Foreign Office warned LGBT Brits against travelling to certain parts of America due to discriminatory laws. Right-wing Americans pledged to carry guns into restrooms in case a trans person was presented and needed, Lord help us, to wee. When the Pope made a public statement about the Orlando attacks, he managed to do so without mentioning once that the victims were LGBT.
In this social and political climate, is it really so surprising that an American-born man was so riled up by his own homophobia and transphobia that, allegedly enraged by seeing two men kissing, he went on a rampage and shot 102 people?
Edward Sissons wrote in the Independent, “Queerphobia is no relic of a bygone era: it exists from the vigilante attacker on the street through to the hallowed institutions of the Congress and the Senate. What drives these attacks is the same hate that drives Republican 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.”
The choice of Pulse was not a random one: “You can’t keep us out of fucking bathrooms one week and then claim you care if we live or die the next. You don’t get to claim this for your war on terror.” (Latisha Nichole McDaniel)
5. This is why there’s no ‘straight Pride’
When’s ‘straight Pride’, then?, a whiner asks when the gay Pride marches are bursting with hope and fury. Where’s our safe space?
Orlando is why you don’t need one, and why we do. You may enjoy our rainbow-filled celebrations and our boozy parties, but the reason you don’t need a straight Pride is the same reason we don’t need a white Pride or a men’s Pride. It’s never been needed.
6. Orlando has lost a generation of young LGBT people of colour
Losing 49 people, many of them young, many people of colour, is a devastating loss to any local LGBT community. That’s potentially a whole generation, a whole era, dozens of singles and couples and friends and members of a chosen family.
That will have repercussions in the Orlando gay community for years, even decades, to come.
7. It doesn’t go without saying. Say it.
Many of us feel like we have lost members of our own community, even when we live in different countries. We share a history with those who died, we share a world that is tough, and that is still frightening to live in. We behave differently in queer spaces because we are freer there, and we moderate our behaviours when we are out in the ‘real’ world, as a bid to experience less hate crime and prejudice.
Because of this, you may think that we’re ok, that it goes without saying that you are not homophobic and you condemn the attacks and the men who shout abuse in the streets and the Senators who legislate to make our lives harder.
But it doesn’t go without saying. We need to hear it. So tell us.
Photo: Alisdare Hickson/Creative Commons