Every single person in Pulse nightclub in Orlando was someone’s child, and they were killed by a combination of hatred, bigotry, and political cowardice.
As news of the massacre broke on Sunday morning, the families of the forty nine victims must have been frantically trying to call their loved ones. Those calls went unanswered. I watched as stories emerged of terrified texts sent to mothers from bloody bathroom stalls. I watched as the names of the victims were released and watched the grief of friends on Facebook as they realised they knew people who’d died. I watched as politicians began to assign blame, pointing the finger at Islam, and ISIS, at the gun lobby.
The scale of the massacre and the assault weapons that facilitated it might be unique to the USA but the homophobia and hate that drove it is not. Whether it’s in the USA or Australia, we are used to being attacked and demonised. The bodies in Orlando were barely even cold when a Family First candidate for the Federal election posted this:
Our own leader Malcolm Turnbull, during his first statement on Orlando did not even mention that the attacked occurred in a gay nightclub.
He later corrected this, and acknowledged that it was an assault on the gay community. But many Republican leaders in the USA have painted Orlando as just a terrorist attack and refused to acknowledge the gay connection. Most expressed “thoughts and prayers” for the victims (has there ever been anything so hollow as hearing a politician who takes money from the National Rifle Association express sympathy for the victims of its avarice?) without even acknowledging that Pulse nightclub was an LGBTI venue.
Donald Trump has been quick to focus on the murderer’s (I’m not going to name him) faith and to use it to back his policy of banning Muslims from entering the United States (even though the murderer was born and bred in America). While homophobia is certainly a major problem in the Muslim world, what made the condemnation from Republicans all the more hollow to the gay community was that in western countries the main source of homophobia and hatred is mainstream politicians and religious groups. Most of them are Christian.
Chad Griffin, the head of the largest gay rights body in the world, the Human Rights Campaign, put it well:
Let’s get one thing clear. And this is what disgusts me most about this whole tragedy. The maniac who did this was somehow conditioned to believe that LGBT people deserve to be massacred. And he wasn’t just hearing these messages from ISIL. He was hearing it from politicians and radical anti-LGBT extremists here in our own country. Every time we see legislation that puts a target on the back of LGBT people; every time a preacher spews hate from the pulpit; every time a county clerk says that acknowledging our relationships violates her “religious beliefs”—it sends a signal that LGBT people should be treated differently, and worse.
Orlando might be thousands of kilometers from our shores and Australian gun laws might make an attack of this scale less likely, but LGBTI Australians are still, constantly, under siege. In just the last few months we’ve been compared to Nazis, pedophiles, and people who have sex with animals. Those comparisons were made by national religious leaders and elected members of parliament by the way.
There is, right now, in South Australia and Queensland, a law that allows men who murder gay men to claim they were provoked when the victim flirted with them. It’s called the ‘gay panic defence’ and in 2008 it allowed two men who bashed a gay man, Wayne Ruks, to death to have their charges downgraded from murder to manslaughter (those laws should be changed and you can sign a petition calling for just that here).
The reason why there were over three hundred people in that nightclub is because gay people felt safe there. Because we’re not safe in most other places and that’s just as true in most of Australia as it is in Orlando, Florida. Even in a supposedly sophisticated, tolerant place like Melbourne.
Just weeks ago, during White Night, some friends and I were called “faggots” in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, the week before another friend had abuse screamed at him at traffic lights, the week before two gay friends were asked to “stop being so gay” by another patron in a bar. I’ve been threatened on trams, and had friends bashed in public spaces. This stuff happens all the time. It’s most common at schools where enormous numbers of LGTBI kids experience violence and abuse. It’s part of the reason why gay people kill themselves at shockingly high rates.
So we feel for our brothers and sisters in Pulse night club. We know the fear that drove them underground to that safe place where so many of them were slaughtered. We know that the hatred in Australia will only get worse as the plebiscite on our right to marry unleashes a torrent of homophobia and abuse. And we know that religious bigots here, in the USA, and in the Muslim world will continue to use our community as a punching bag for their own political ends, whatever “thoughts and prayers” they offer to the victims of Orlando.
We’ll be strong in the face of it and we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with members of our community in Orlando and, together, we’ll get through it. But god it hurts.