The shock and impact of the Orlando massacre has begun to diminish some, but quickly the national discussion has turned to gun control and gun rights, ISIL and terrorism. As we bury the dead and grieve over our slain brothers and sisters, we must not forget the real issue:
This was a hate crime against the LGBT community. Period.
Without a question this was an act by Omar Mateen inspired by extremist Muslim ideology. No question that he wanted this to be a terrorist act.
But his goal was to kill and hurt as many LGBT people as possible. And we cannot let anyone forget that.
This horrendous act was done at a popular gay nightclub where Mateen had visited a number of times.
National media has pointed out that he scoped out Disney World as a possible place for his attack. But what most of the media either does not know or ignores is that Mateen was at Disney World during the popular Gay Days events held in and around Disney every June. Thousands of LGBT people were there, many of them wearing red shirts noting that they were part of our community and that they were there celebrating our freedom to be.
So it is clear that this was not a random decision to kill people in a club. He wanted to kill gay people. Period.
Mateen’s father, who openly has expressed his hatred of gays, said that his son reacted violently when he saw two men kissing. He would have seen plenty of that and more at the Pulse nightclub. Mateen’s second wife said that she knew he was planning an attack, and she was aware of his plans.
So there is no question: this was a terrorist attack, but this was specifically planned against the LGBT community.
A hate crime. Yet now we are barely hearing the word gay mentioned when it comes to discussion of Orlando and Mateen’s heinous act.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, as we rejoice in the establishment of Stonewall by President Barack Obama as a national historic monument, as we rejoice in the freedom to marry whom we love, we cannot forget one thing.
Hatred is still alive and well. Homophobia still exists, both externally and internally. There are still many who hate us and want to see us pushed to the side, forgotten, or in some cases, dead. There are people who rejoice openly (like the pastors in California and Arizona who praised the killing) and others who quietly were happy for what happened to our community.
This is not the first time gay people have been targeted on a mass scale. A massive fire swept through the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, La., on June 24, 1973, killing 32 people. The arsonist was never caught, but it was clearly an attack on the main gathering place of the LGBT community in that city. Five injured in a bombing at a lesbian bar in Atlanta in 1997. A gunman who killed one and wanted to kill more in an attack on a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in 2000. And the New Year’s Eve attack in 2014 on a Seattle gay club where a Muslim man poured gasoline on the steps and set it on fire. That time the 700 patrons, many of them the leadership of the LGBT community there, escaped.
The decision by Omar Mateen to attack the Pulse nightclub was deliberate. He hated gays and he understood what gay nightclubs and bars have been and still are: a safe place for the LBGT community to be who they are and not have to worry about what others think or say about them.
This was an attack on all of us. And we cannot forget. This was a hate crime, and there are plenty of people who still hate us.
Many politicians immediately turned the Orlando incident into talk about terrorism, Muslim extremism and guns. Some of them can’t even bring themselves to say the “g” word, as if saying the nightclub was gay will cause them problems. And we saw that our own state legislators couldn’t see that laws such as Hate Bill 2 are part of the problem of hatred expressed in Orlando.
What is even worse is that this was a deliberate attack on parts of our community that are even more marginalized: Latinos and blacks. For many of them, it has been doubly hard being LGBT within racial and ethnic groups who in many cases still openly reject them. Some of those killed were on the “down low” or were more closeted. Pulse was a place where they could be free from hate.
As we look at the external hate, we cannot forget that much of this comes from internal hate. Hatred of themselves. The FBI is saying there is no indication that Mateen was gay, but there have been reports of men having had sex with Mateen and even a possibility that Mateen was afraid that he had contracted HIV from one of his sexual partners.
Whatever the case, it is clear that Mateen was conflicted within. As we know, men experiment, and he may have some same-sex attraction. Something within him was creating extreme anger.
Those who attack someone most vehemently are usually those who internally struggle with it. Examples abound from Jimmy Swaggart to former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to evangelical leader Ted Haggard, Ppoliticians and religious figures who rail against gays and promote anti-LGBT laws. All of them dealing with internal struggles and finding the best way to deal with it by lashing out and attacking others to avoid dealing with their own pain and feelings.
The reality is that many of us in the LGBT community can identify. Often we were the biggest bullies of gays, lesbians and transpersons because we were ashamed or afraid of what we were. Only when we began to accept who we were and found acceptance by others were we able to shed that hate within.
That is why the attack on the Pulse nightclub was so horrific. It was not only an attack on LGBT people, but an attack on one of the few places we feel safe and secure.
And that is why we must speak up now and remind people every day that even though Mateen committed a terrorist act, he did it deliberately against the LGBT community. He did it against all of us. We must stand up and speak up, otherwise the haters will continue to erode what safety and security we do have.
And we must never forget Orlando. This should be a wake-up call that we need to raise our banner high again and push for equal treatment, equal opportunities and equal rights.