We Cannot be Afraid

Richie Compton, left, and Eric Winger kneel at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting outside of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center on June 13, 2016. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

Yesterday, around this time, I woke up looked at my phone and found out that there was a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. When I showered and dressed, I went to the living room and turned on CNN.

It was then that I found out why I can no longer be afraid.

49 people were killed and 53 were wounded, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. But then I also found out that the nightclub, Pulse, was a gay nightclub, making it the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBTQ+ community according to the Washington Post.

The shooter, who I will not dignify by mentioning his name, is reported to have called 911 and pledge to allegiance to ISIS some time before the shooting. The terror group also took responsibility for the shooting. This also makes it the deadliest terror attack since Sept. 11.

The liberal wing calls it an act of hate directed towards the LGBTQ+ community. Terrorism is only an afterthought and that this shooting stands as yet another reason why the country needs stronger gun-control.

The conservative wing focused on the terrorism aspect. Not wanting to upset their evangelical base, they consider the attack on a gay nightclub being only an afterthought.

I believe that homophobia and radicalism go hand-in-hand in this specific instance. Both were major motivations for the shooter. Depending on whose Twitter feed you look at, it’s an either/or situation. Both sides of the political spectrum want to portray it as being black and white.

It is not. There are a myriad shades of gray, each differing in a complex series of context and motivations.

Considering a lot of people were killed for no reason, this of course shouldn’t matter at all. But during times of relentless sorrow, we try to find reason where there is none. It’s the healing taking effect in real-time.

I will not discuss how Florida’s gun laws played a part in this attack. I have written at length my views on gun-control and I will not do it again. Instead, I will focus on the motivation: homophobia.

It is true that the ideology – which is not at all Islam – shared by groups like ISIS and others condemn homosexuality as a sin on par with murder. The fact that the shooter adhered to this strict ideology of Islamic holy texts is a factor in his prejudice. According to the shooter’s father, he became enraged after seeing a same-sex couple kiss in public. This happened a few months before the attack. However, Islamic extremism is not the only faucet of homophobic rhetoric.

“The United States can’t forget to tackle the ways that homegrown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence still contribute to the marginalization of our fellow citizens,” wrote Karren Attiah in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune.

As has been abundantly clear in many instances, members of the conservative wing are to blame for the normalization of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and discrimination. Attiah also points out in her op-ed that Florida senator Marco Rubio created a “marriage and family advisory board” that supports conversation therapy. Congressman Devin Nunes (R-California) voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007 and for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that bans transgender people from using public restrooms that corresponds with their gender identity. As many companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank have halted plans to create hundreds of jobs in the state.

Yet all of those politicians have either released statements or tweeted about the Orlando shooting. Most of them offering condolences and thoughts and prayers. Whether they are aware of their own hypocrisy or not we’ll never know.

The shooter’s father also posted an online video saying acknowledging that homosexuals are sinners, but that it is up to God to punish them – I guess that makes it better.

Though this country has made great strides towards equality for all marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, there are still deep biases and prejudices that exist and Orlando reminded us all of that.

After the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land, there were still a few holdouts. As chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore ordered that the ruling be ignored and that the ban on same-sex marriage continue. Kim Davis, the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When Davis was jailed for ignoring the ruling, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee jumped on it as a means to strengthen his national profile.

Thankfully all three of these people were brought to justice. Moore has been suspended from the bench and awaits a hearing before the state’s Court of the Judiciary. Davis is allowing her office to issue licenses to same-sex couples but without her signature. Huckabee, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008 and 2016, is no longer a part of the equation. All together, these three individuals represent a culture’s unwillingness to accept change.

But LGBTQ+ rights does not stop after marriage equality. According to the Human Rights Campaign 28 states still allow housing discrimination based on sexual orientation while 30 states still allow it based on gender identity. Twenty-nine states still allow public accommodations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Thirty-five states still do not have legislation that address discrimination against LGBTQ+ youths in public schools.

If this were a race of people or specific ethnic group, it would be unacceptable by the mainstream culture. But somehow a majority of states still believe it’s acceptable to look at us and say we are second-class citizens.

The shooter was raised in an environment and society that normalized homophobia and transphobia. As a result 49 people were killed.

It is fitting that the 70th annual Tony Awards were broadcasted on Sunday. Theater has always been a haven for outcasts, and LGBTQ+ youths know a lot about being outcasts.

“Your tragedy is our tragedy,” said Corden with the entirety of the theater community behind him, all with little silver ribbons.

In addition to James Corden’s touching tribute at the beginning of the broadcast, the most powerful moment was during the opening number when children stood in the spotlight, then darkness, and when light flooded the stage, they all turned out to be the acting nominees.

There are a lot of emotions that we’re experiencing and the hurt may never go away. But we cannot be afraid. If we’re afraid, the extremists and bigots wins. We cannot let them win. We’ll keep holding our parades and waving rainbow flags. We’re going to do these things because it’s who we are and also because it infuriates them.

We have the freedom to be who we are and they hate that. They also hate videos like this:

They never win. So let’s not be afraid.

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