The deadliest mass shooting in American history. Orlando Pulse, “the hottest gay bar in Orlando.” 49 LGBT people killed, 53 wounded; countless more traumatised, scarred for the rest of their lives, terror-struck by the sound of a firework, made restless by a shift in the shape of a shadow, made victims again at every mention of a gun, by the next inevitable mass shooting, by every gun-toting Liberty lover whose solution is “more guns”, who’ll rally against mental illness or the socialists in the White House, but not against the cancer that has long since turned America into a hospice for its most vulnerable citizens. They live in fear of death, without care, without dignity, only a omnipresent dread – often justified quietly by the rants of politicians or the disdain of strangers – but sometimes manifesting violently, angrily, as rape, as assault, as death.
In this attack, that LGBT people are right to fear for their safety should become undeniable. Assailed by “religious freedom” laws, by laws that pre-empt local protections, by laws restricting their freedom of movement, their rights to a stable home, to stable employment, to use a fucking bathroom. These are laws protected and enacted by so-called social conservatives, who whip up a concession of moral panics and hatreds, blind in their bigotry to the damage they do, even when it visits – naked and grotesque and terrifying – upon their fellow Americans in a scene like this: in the LGBT community’s memory it will forever be a harrowing tableaux, for the conservatives just another excuse to grandstand; to appear tough – and just look at the farcical way they do it.
“Really bad shooting in Orlando,” tweeted Donald Trump. “Praying for all the victims and their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart, and vigilant?” And then, a few hours later: “Is President Obama going to mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?”
This coming from a man who refuses to identify the victims as LGBT; the site of the attack as a gay bar; the catalyst for this cataclysm as the sight of two men kissing – and there are people who will think of that scene and wince at the thought. The same people who support “traditional marriage”. The same people who support “the safety of women in bathrooms”. The same people who support correctional facilities where gay men are electrocuted until a hug from their own father will make them weep. The same people who believe Michelle Obama is a man. Or that AIDS is God’s punishment for sodomy; that trans teenagers are confused or want to be special snowflakes; that to be trans is to be worthy of hellfire or death. Attitudes fostered and cultivated by demagogues and bigots and people who don’t know any better and people who “don’t care, to be honest” and so say nothing. Into this world was the Orlando attack born, and those who made and make it possible have no right to claim it as their own.
Donald Trump won’t identify the Orlando attacks as a hate crime, nor will Rubio, nor Paul Joseph Watson, who prefers to refer to Islam’s violence problem, not America’s bigotry problem. To address the core motivation of the shooter, Omar Mateen, would be to recognise what they hold in common with the man – their homophobia and transphobia, separated only by their means of attack – and what part they, and those like them, played in a radicalisation that knows no religion, only the fears of the ignorant and the desire to cleanse. No LGBT person will feel stood up for by these men. No LGBT person will forget the spaces they’ve been forced from by them, or the rights they have had denied. The fear they live in is not Islamic, it is endemic in all areas, thrown into the spotlight by this spectacle, but when the camera pans their lives will still be cut short out of frame, by poverty, by discrimination, by mental illness and violence, by heartbreak and ostracisation, by people who care nothing of their losses and only for their own gain.