Usually when I sit down to write an article, I try to infuse humor into my language. One of the fastest ways to get someone to listen to you is to make them laugh, after all. But today I am out of quips and witty phrases; humor has been in short supply since I woke up on Sunday morning and first read about the Pulse shooting in Orlando Florida.
With 49 people dead and 53 people injured, this was the largest mass shooting on United States soil, and a hate crime against LGBT+ people. I felt the effects of this personally as well as sharing the societal response to an act of terror.
When asked to describe myself, I once defaulted to ‘I am a young, ambitious, bisexual woman’. At the time it was a largely harmless joke, and one that encapsulated most of my identity. I have never felt the weight of that identity more sharply than in the wake of this tragedy. When I read the news about the Pulse shooting, I felt grief on an intensely personal scale, a reaction that many LGBT+ friends told me they shared. It was a sadness that surpassed the devastation of the attack itself to include horror what the shooting signified for this country and LGBT+ people.
June is LGBT+ Pride month, in honor of the Stonewall Riots which occurred at the end of June in 1969. The shooting at Pulse reminds the LGBT+ community and the country that Pride has always involved the value of identity in a world opposed to our existence; that simply being queer is an innately brave act in this day and age. The level of personal reaction that I and many of my friends within the community have felt in response to this shooting may seem incomprehensible, but this attack threw into sharp relief the struggle that many of us continue to live with daily.
The fear after this shooting will linger long past when the press coverage will stop; I worry that the prevalence this type of existential fear marks a success for the people who propagate this terror. I have a deep and abiding respect for everyone who has come together through the pain and the fear to protect members of this community and resist the virulent hatred against us which remains dangerous to this day.
On Saturday night, the presence of fear was a more distant specter to me, something that was considered and usually dismissed as my own paranoia. That easy dismissal will not happen again. The shooting at Pulse proved that members of the LGBT+ community have very real dangers to our lives, and that concern over that should never be dismissed as something as trite as paranoia. But the response, from LGBT+ people and allies has also proved that though the fight for safety may continue, it is a fight that can be won.
In the search for some kind of justice for this act of terror, it seems simplest to lay the blame solely on the shooter, or a certain sets of legislation. But narrowing down causality into simple terms does a disservice to understanding why this tragedy happened, and more importantly preventing a tragedy like this ever happening again.
I admit to anger at how quickly the conversation around the Pulse shooting changed to a debate about gun legislation, even while I recognize the need for the discussion. The primary focus on gun regulation masks the underlying issue of why this horrific act of terror occurred: homophobia and bigotry.
I do not deny that the accessibility to guns makes these tragedies more comprehensive and contributes to a higher loss of life; that alone means that a conversation regarding weapons is pertinent and should occur. However, a concentration on gun restrictions disguises that this was an act of hatred for a specific demographic of people, which has taken many forms throughout the years.
No matter if we are being killed with knives, or stones, or guns the issue at the heart of the destruction and loss of life is the hatred which enables bigoted killers. This is the same issue that provoked the riots at Stonewall in 1969 and claimed the life of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man beaten to death in 1998, eighteen years ago.
When a hate crime takes place, and the main conversation which emerges in the wake of tragedy involves the mechanisms that are used in the crime reveals a lack of understanding why these murders happened. Even worse is the use of tragedy as a personal campaign point for politicians whose voting and legislation record damages members of the community that they claim to mourn.
In the wake of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, the need for a comprehensive conversation involving homophobia and the risks still faced by LGBT+ people is more apparent than ever.
Though I and many of my friends are still feeling the fear of the news on Sunday, now more than ever should we as a country be making sure that the time for fear is passed.