Practically any member of the LGBTQ community understands the power and sense of place that the night club holds. It has always been a place where one can let down their guard for a few hours, dance like crazy with friends and feel the joy of being free. All that was shattered in Orlando on Sunday, June 12, after a gunman opened fire in the crowded dance club “Pulse” in Orlando, Florida. But it wasn’t just shattered there, it was shattered everywhere.
LGBTQ people, in whatever culture or society they belong to, identify with each other in very tangible ways. Even in the most tolerant of societies it is dangerous and often lethal to be outward about ones sexuality in public. Holding hands, kissing or dressing in accordance with your gender identity often leads to slurs, threats and violent assaults. Most of these go unreported or are dismissed, but they occur every single day. The club offered a sanctuary from the dangers of the street. Now that has changed.
In time the club will once again become a place of freedom and the joy of expression. But for now the global LGBTQ community is in mourning. Every tragedy like this inhabits its own sphere of injustice, sorrow and pain; but they are related to one another in that they emerge from a common place, the dark underbelly of supremacist thinking. This kind of thinking can unhinge a small few who may already struggle with mental illness and its stigma, and have relatively easy access to extremely lethal weapons. But it is not limited to homophobia. It is a vicious infection that fuels all paranoid bigotries, including Islamophobia.
In the aftermath of this tragedy Muslims from all over have come forward to denounce the actions of this man who self identified as being a Muslim. They should not have had to do this since no one asks Christians or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus to denounce violence done in their names. But many volunteered to assist with helping families and loved ones and many more gave blood for the victims even though it is the holy month of Ramadan and doing so meant not being able to replenish their bodies until after sundown. It is this kind of solidarity that we must focus on. It is this common humanity that we must choose to believe in.
In the coming weeks and months this atrocity will be exploited by pundits and political leaders. Indeed, it has already begun. The language of discrimination and bigotry is being employed to stoke fear and suspicion at home, and justify more war and military aggression abroad. It is therefore imperative for people of conscience to expose the fear mongering for what it is and shun it.
The LGBTQ community is in shock. It has witnessed unspeakable horror and it is hurting. But it will heal. And I have every confidence that it will emerge stronger and embrace its intrinsic humanity more than ever before.
Kenn Orphan 2016