By Liam McCaffrey
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Again and again, it feels like we’re repeating the same process of shock, grief and analysis every time a terror attack takes place across the world. The attacks that take place are often in communal spaces, an attack on everybody. What took place in Orlando was an attack against a specific community, the queer community. Let us be left in no doubt, it was an attack against every person’s freedom for which we all have a right to grieve. But it was also an attack with an intention of targeting the LGBTQI+ community.
Gay bars and clubs have existed for centuries in one form or another. They are not simply a symptom of contemporary tolerance. The purpose of these clubs has always been to provide a safe space in which people who identify as LGBTQI+ can live out their lives and love. For much of the past few centuries, these sparsely distributed clubs were the only spaces where the community could freely express themselves. While toleration and acceptance has come on in leaps and bounds, the reality is that gay clubs are still that a safe space to which the community can turn.
On the 12 June 2016, when Omar Mateen appeared to have murdered 50 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, he shattered that safety. He did so, or at least his father believes he did, because of his intolerance of gay relationships. If this was a far-right attack on a mosque, we would call it an act of Islamophobia. If it was an attack on a Jewish synagogue, we would be disgusted by the anti-Semitism. This is because the attack is not incidental to the identities of the victims; it is a deliberative action based on those identities. Similarly, the attack that took place at Pulse nightclub was an attack on queer people both explicitly and implicitly.
The response of politicians and the media has failed to recognise the specificity of this attack, perhaps as a matter of political expediency. People don’t like terrorists and some people don’t like the queer community. When people don’t like the queer community or terrorists, an attack like this holds the mirror up to them. It makes it difficult for them to condemn the actions of the terrorists, because they may have contributed to a narrative that legitimises this kind of action. We have seen far too many ignore the nature of this attack as though the specificity of target is completely immaterial. To do so is to completely anaesthetise oneself against the community’s history and plight.
We wish this attack had not happened. We wish we could erase the whole thing. However, it did take place and it did take place at a gay club because the attacker held homophobic views (be they religiously motivated or otherwise). To erase the discriminatory sentiment from this terrorist activity, is to turn a blind eye to the experience of the queer community who have had been killed in their own home.
When a minority group is attacked like this, especially a minority group that has and continues to fight so vehemently for basic recognition, everyone has a cross to bear. From those of us that sit by idly while people spread messages of homophobia, to those who spread that message. Whether a message of prejudice is a religious objection or not, we all bear some responsibility to stamp out and never contribute to homophobia and transphobia. Recognising that this terrorist attack was also a hate crime requires us all to recognise the ways in which we’ve contributed to or allowed homophobia to fester.
The lives that were tragically lost in this incident sadly cannot be recovered and we cannot prevent every terrorist attack. What we can do is take an honest look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we can make things better. I know I have allowed homophobia to fester, I’ve even contributed to it. In that sense I too bear some responsibility for what happened on the 12th June. If we want to make this world better we need to recognise this attack for what it is and be honest with ourselves about how we have tacitly supported the kind of prejudiced thinking that led to this assault. With the greatest zeal, we cannot ourselves change the world. With grace we can change ourselves and perhaps at least that can be a start.