The LGBTI Community Must Not Be Written Out of this Tragedy

14/06/2016 12:55

Phones were ringing in the pockets of dead bodies this weekend, as people tried to contact their loved ones amidst breaking news of a shooting at an Orlando gay bar. That's how one witness described the scene: the indelible sound of various ringtones buzzing simultaneously on the dance floor - calls that would, ultimately, never be answered.

The heartbreaking massacre at Pulse nightclub will inevitably be used as an evidential tool to further various ideologies and political stances (which may often act in contradiction to each other), but that is to be expected. What has been particularly disappointing, for me at least, is the blatant attempt by several media outlets and social commentators to misconstrue this incident and rewrite it's narrative into one which does not place the LGBTI community - that is, the victims - at the centre, where they belong.

The most blatant example of this was during Sunday night's Sky News Press Preview, which featured Guardian columnist Owen Jones and radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer. When Jones described the attacks as "one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBTI people in the Western world for generations" (which I wholeheartedly agree with), the conversation descended into a flustered debacle which culminated in Jones walking off of the set following comments from Hartley-Brewer that he did not have "ownership on the horror of this crime" because he was gay. Rather, both Hartley-Brewer and host Mark Longhurst argued, this was an attack on all human beings - that is, this was not targeted at a single community, but rather an assault on the freedom to enjoy oneself in a nightclub.

To argue that this was an attack on all of humanity, while attempting to abjectly erase the LGBTI community from the discussion, is akin to declaring that "all lives matter" when presented with the realities of systematic injustice against black Americans. While I certainly understand that we live in a society which continually fails to acknowledge the layers of sociocultural privilege that it has bred and perpetuates, I refuse to remain silent when faced with a rapidly emerging trajectory which is turning this incident into something that it was not.

Let's also be clear on one thing - there is no binary in whether this was homophobia or terrorism. In this case, the two are not mutually exclusive and should not be treated as such. This was both.

Omar Mateen, clearly, had a problem with the LGBTI community and that is irrefutable. According to his father, Mateen "got very angry" when he witnessed two men kissing. Fast forward - he walks into a nightclub with a name that denotes life, and starts killing.

To even question whether this attack was homophobic is pitiable - unlike most ideologically driven attacks that occur in the West, this was discriminatory with the lives that it claimed. Mateen cared about who his victims were. He chose them because of their identity.

We must be careful that we do not rewrite the narrative here; that we do not forego vital parts of this story when we speak of the atrocity at Pulse nightclub with future generations. Because, on June 11, 2016, the LGBTI community came under attack from a twisted ideologue - and the best way to remember those who lost their lives at his hands is to acknowledge who they were.

This editing process is not only apparent in the media, however, but also in the sudden outpouring of grief from notoriously anti-LGBTI politicos - who, unsurprisingly, have glossed over the fact that the victims they are "thinking of" were patrons of a gay bar and have instead chosen to compartmentalise the incident to suit their own agenda by focusing on Mateen's alleged links to Daesh.

Alas, we reach a deeper conversation. For Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and their ilk to sombrely declare that their prayers are with the victims and their families is astoundingly benighted considering that these individuals have spent their political careers spouting their poisonous, anti-LGBTI opinions to anyone who will listen.

If you would consider yourself to be cut from the same cloth as Rubio and Cruz; that is, if you seek to regulate access to restrooms for transgender individuals, if you oppose marriage equality, if you believe that being LGBTI is a lifestyle choice and that those of us who engage in same-sex relations are on a one way trip to hell - then you can keep your condolences, because your dogma is the very reason that 49 people are dead and a further 53 are injured.

Until we can overturn the belief that LGBTI people are immoral, unnatural, deficient or perverse - we will not move beyond these episodes of targeted hate - and, so, we have to start having serious conversations about how we approach such views. For as long as we allow bigotry to prevail under the guise of free speech or religiosity, then "equality" will stumble on as a rhetorical buzzword and not a lived experience.

The truth is that social justice will never claim victory if we continue to dismiss, whitewash or blatantly ignore the existence of marginalised communities and their experiences.

This is why coverage is important - this is why we must be true to the reality of the Pulse shootings, this is why we must acknowledge that this was an act of terrorism driven, at it's core, by one man's ideological hatred of the LGBTI community.

This article first appeared in The National Newspaper