opinion

'Omar Mateen may have hated people like me. Yet I refuse to be Islamophobic.'

Yesterday, I woke up to the most horrific news of my life. An American man named Omar Mateen, had entered a popular gay nightclub called Pulse in Orlando early Sunday morning and gunned down fellow members of the LGBT community.

Born in New York, but a resident of Fort Pierce, Florida, Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call before his attack. Reports claim 50 were killed while at least 53 more were injured. Although I knew none of them personally, my heart quakes in agony for their deaths.

Reverberating waves of frustration and sadness brutally reminded me that despite our recent strides for acceptance and legitimacy in our governments and society, our fight is far from over. The joy of freedom is not yet available to all and last night, it was stolen.

I’m gay.

It boggles my mind that there are people in the world who harbour so much hate for people like me. There are people out there who don’t want us to live, who want to see us dead, who actually kill us, and who don’t have much remorse when we die.

‘When I got across the street there was just blood everywhere.’ Victims speak about the Orlando massacre. Post continues after video…

Video via CNN

After I had absorbed what happened, I knew that this event would spark more Islamophobia and collective blame towards the Muslim community. I knew that people like Donald Trump and the supporters of his discriminatory rhetoric would fan the flames and choose to deepen their ignorance and misunderstanding of everything that transpired.

Yes, this was an act by a man who happened to be Muslim, but I cannot bring myself to be Islamophobic. I have wonderful, beautiful friends who are Muslim that truly care for me and aren’t capable of the kind of evil witnessed last night.

I have queer Muslim friends who face similar discrimination that I have in my own Filipino Catholic community. Hate comes in all religions: there are Christians who don’t want to see us happy, even among our family and “friends”, and Jews as well. Hate is as universal and as potent as love, which is why it’s so critical that we all try to share more LOVE and kindness in our hearts, no matter what our beliefs.

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While speaking with a reporter from MSNBC, Mateen’s father, Mir Siddique, an immigrant from Afghanistan, addressed the tragic events: “We are apologising for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking, we are in shock like the whole country. This had nothing to do with religion.”

Pulse nightclub after the attack. Image via Getty.

Furthermore, he said his son became angry after encountering gay men while visiting Miami with his family: “He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry. They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.”

His apologies do not go unheard. I firmly believe that genuine exchanges of empathy and the will to understand another beyond our own beliefs and perceptions is one of the severely underused forces of humanity with the potential to revolutionise the world for the better.

It pains me that for many of us, each day is an act of survival. It pains me that 50 innocent lives were taken out on a night of fun— 50 souls living their lives like anyone on earth should be able to, none committing harm to another. It pains me most to think of the families and loved ones who were waiting for their love to return home.

But it especially pains me to think of the closeted men who were killed last night—especially young gay men who had to live in secrecy because they weren't sure they would be accepted by anyone. I picture their families and loved ones wondering, grappling with their realisations that they were gay, hoping that they would have loved them all along. I know what it's like to have to party in secret.

Australians held vigils to remember the victims. Image via Getty.

The visceral reactions throughout social media have painted a picture of overwhelming solidarity and a necessary call for peace, one that isn’t always vocalised and expressed in bold, but always felt within. Last night, a mother said her last text from her son was "I love you, he's going to kill us." Countless exchanges like this are the grossly unfair pieces of evidence that demonstrate why we must practice deeper understanding for the LGBT community, for the Muslim community, for all.

This was the worst mass shooting in American history— and during pride month. For now we mourn, but we shall celebrate who we are until the end of our days. I call on all members of the LGBT community to dance upon the grounds of injustice and pour our hearts over needless bloodshed. We have the power to sparkle in the face of darkness.

This time, I'm prouder than ever of who I am and the LGBT community and the way we resist the forces that seek to change or eliminate us. We experience things, but we always overcome, with love to spare. We experience the worst kind of hate, violence, and the worst kind of silence. But we stand strong. This time, we scream in defiance. For those of you who don't get it by now, let me tell you somethin': We were born this way and we're not fucking going anywhere.

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