The Blog

Orlando Shooting Proves LGBT Solidarity Prevails Over Hatred and Terror

From every attempt to extinguish this solidarity an even bigger flame seemingly erupts, evoking the words of Rozalla that everybody has a right to be free to feel good. Now let us start educating and spreading respect for that freedom before more lives are lost.

"Do you think that one guy would realise this would be the result of his actions?", whispered the man in front of me draped in an XL rainbow flag. We were steadily treading through the quiet crowds that had amassed at the London vigil for the horrific shootings which had taken place in Orlando just a day prior.

Thousands of people were squeezed to the brims of Old Compton Street, Dean Street and the entire surrounding vicinity of London's famous gay district in Soho. From rooftops above to people stretched out of windows, despite the vast numbers there was silence as the LGBT community and its allies paid respect to the forty-nine lives that were lost at Pulse nightclub.

The atmosphere was still and sober, but the air was warm and instead of tears most faces wore staunch looks. Out of the silence erupted a chorus of chanting, "we're here, we're queer, we will not live in fear", and then a wave of clapping ripled throughout the streets. Slowly but surely the laughter and liveliness commenced down every nook and cranny within the perimeter.

Rozalla's '90s hit 'Everybody's Free' suddenly started blaring from across the road and two young men in sleeveless hi-vis jackets with 'event management' emblazoned across them rolled a giant speaker through the crowd. Lager splashed from plastic cups and giant bubbles floated above our heads.

I made my way towards the Admiral Duncan, a fun and lively landmark drinking establishment in the heart of London's gay community but iconic of anti-gay violence. One Friday night in 1999, a neo-Nazi terrorist detonated a nail bomb inside the pub, killing three people and injuring dozens, expunging the laughter and liveliness. But only temporarily.

Seventeen years later I am standing outside of it, alongside gay rights champion Peter Tatchell and hundreds of others who had stayed to dance, drink and indulge in the community spirit.

As darkness ensued and the crowds slowly dispersed, further along the road I passed candles planted in beer bottles that were sprawled across a flower-laden, glittery floor on the side of the road opposite the club G-A-Y.

While I left the vigil feeling proud of people's efforts to demonstrate that nobody should stand alone and hopeful for the future of LGBT rights, I was contemplative of the fact that many people in today's society do not even know what LGBT stands for.

This is why preventing atrocities like Orlando in the future starts with education. We must teach each other what it means to be free to identify as lesbian, gay bisexual, trans, queer or intersex; and most importantly what it means to have these freedoms respected.

We must learn to understand and respect one another to a point that does not allow an environment to exist where our freedoms and our values are vulnerable to heinous attacks.

Individuals like Mark Longhurst who attempted to dissociate the Orlando shootings with homophobia as he did on Sky News have a lot to learn. While he may not be directly attacking LGBTs, he is complicit through boasting ignorance around the issue. To purport that an attack on a gay night club is not directly a homophobic hate crime, is to ignore the systematic discrimination inflicted on LGBT people on a daily basis around the world.

The same goes for educating each other in a way that prevents radicalisation and extremism. We have a social responsibility to learn for ourselves about people's differences and then to educate our peers.

We must not scapegoat the Muslim community just because one perpetrator of the crime claims to have committed it in the name of Islam, but instead understand that this prejudice and hatred is also largely inflicted amongst Muslims for their religious beliefs. It is important to recognise that there are progressives in all faiths and that the only way forward is to build bridges with liberals within these communities, through initiatives such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation's LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign. For standing together to fight prejudice, discrimination and hate crime is overwhelmingly more powerful than a double standards approach.

Stepping up security measures for any minority group is clearly essential during the process of working towards a fairer, more accepting and equal society. But as the thousands of LGBTs who gathered in Soho demonstrated, the LGBT community will not shut their rainbow flags away in the closet and shy away from their sexuality in fear. They will take to the streets out and proud in the face of anyone who tries to stop them from being who they are and loving whoever they wish to love.

So while the lives of forty-nine were cruelly snatched away in Orlando on Sunday merely for being out, having fun and expressing themselves freely - the vigil in Soho was a sure reminder of the strength of the LGBT community to stand in solidarity and reinforce the fact that love will always prevail over hatred and terror.

From every attempt to extinguish this solidarity an even bigger flame seemingly erupts, evoking the words of Rozalla that everybody has a right to be free to feel good. Now let us start educating and spreading respect for that freedom before more lives are lost.