On the 12th of June, 29 year old Omar Mateen walked in to Pulse nightclub, a popular LGBTQ club not local to him and killed 49 people, wounding a further 53. Although every politician offered their condolences, thoughts, and prayers, a divide between what they have said and how they have conducted themselves in office is obvious. Before delving too far in to that, however, one thing must be made abundantly clear:
This was a hate crime.
Although much is still yet to be understood, what investigators have uncovered is a sad tale. It has been reported that Mateen had been a regular at Pulse, a venue 2 hours away from his home town in Port St.Lucie. It has also been reported that he regularly chatted with other gay men on dating apps.
In his final moments he called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS (as well as previously mentioning ties to Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, 3 extremist groups that are not on the best of terms) and it is clear that the motive for this attack was deeply rooted in hatred and homophobia. Many, however, would like to refocus this issue to that of Islamic extremism or gun control. Whilst these are both important, this is taking away from the fact that 49 LGBTQ people, mostly people of colour, were targeted for their sexuality in a place they considered, and up until that day was, a safe haven.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Of course, everybody on the internet was very quick to show condolences, and to lend their “thoughts and prayers”. For most of us, this is all we can do with what we have. For elected officials, moral support and lip service will not do. Too many times were these empty gestures offered by politicians in that moment, ignoring their track record of systemically blocking legislation progressing LGBTQ rights, or even introducing legislation such as North Carolina’s controversial bills on restricting bathroom usage to a person’s birth gender. Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted his thoughts and prayers out to the victims and their families, conveniently ignoring his repeated comments on repealing same sax marriage laws. Republican House Chair Pete Sessions is quoted as saying “It was a young person’s nightclub, I’m told. And there were some [LGBTQ people] there, but mostly it was Latinos”.
Many would decry these comments as typical of Christians or Conservatives. But, at least here in Australia, I wouldn’t think that’s the case. Polling shows the majority of Australians support same sex marriage. The problem lies with those that claim to represent Christians, those that claim to represent the people. The Australian Christian Lobby. Tony Abbott. Bob Katter. People that spread fear and hatred of the LGBTQ community. It’s through this culture of hate that people such as Mateen can end up harbouring the feelings he did that caused this tragedy.
What can be done from here?
Although the LGBTQ community has made great strides within the last couple of decades, there is still much to be done. Same sex marriage is still not legal here in Australia, our elected officials instead opting to waste our time and their money on a non-binding plebiscite.
Transgendered people constantly face obstacles from all areas of life: Government regulations on where they can urinate, or medical hoops to jump through in order to receive hormone replacement therapy or gender reassignment surgery that often has insurmountable hurdles thrown in front of them.
People of colour, be them Latino, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, not having a solid voice within the LGBTQ community, or one which is not given as much weight as is to white counterparts.
Bisexuals and Pansexuals are still facing ridicule from both the Straight and LGBTQ community on various points. According to their critics, they are greedy, fence-sitters, scared to commit to being gay. It’s any wonder Bi- and Pan- people remain in the closet. We are scared. And I say we, because I too am in that closet, but no more.
I, Michael Winsall, have spent the last decade standing by as an ally to the community whilst dealing with my own self-hatred and homophobia.
I refuse to be scared. I refuse to give in to the daily harassment that makes safe spaces such as nightclubs a necessity. But mostly, I refuse to be silent. I implore you, whoever you are and whatever your story is, to stand tall. If you are out but don’t get involved, it’s time you did. If you are an ally, it is time you stand by your LGBTQ friends, and not just when a tragedy befalls the community. If you are still in the closet, it’s time to be proud of who you are. Some would tell you it gets better; I tell you that we will make it better.
Nothing can be done for the 49 people we lost this week. Everything can be done to save the next 49.