More than any of the mass shootings in the last few years (and they seem to happen more and more often), this one has especially rattled me and affected me. There is the realization that this wasn’t random, but targeting a specific group. Targeting the LGBTQ community. Targeting us. I see more of myself in the 49 names and faces than I do in the victims after most shootings, not because their lives weren’t as precious, but because these victims could have been me. And then there is the frustration that this will get lost in the prevailing rhetoric that predictably goes to gun control and fears of Islamic terrorism. Sure, there have been a lot of statements of sympathy towards the LGBTQ community, and articles documenting the sad history of attacks over the decades, but nothing that puts the violent hatred towards us at the center of the conversation or looks at the causes of why this persists despite so much advancement legally and politically.
It is connected to things that do not involve guns but involve similar hate, such as the series of killings of trans women of color here in San Francisco, or the “bathroom laws” targeting the trans community that “other” and demonize trans women making them such likely targets. It’s the long history of arsons of gay clubs and even churches. Of beatings, particularly of gay men. Of the much mythologized Stonewall Riots themselves.
This occurs not in a vacuum but in the context of issues in the U.S. that don’t get enough scrutiny. We need to talk about how toxic masculinity fuels hatred towards sexual minorities. Young men already disaffected by whatever repulsed by two men kissing or a woman who may have been born a man. And we need to talk about the problem of religious fundamentalism. Even when it’s not in the forefront such as discrimination based on “religious freedom” it’s lurking in the background, with some connection to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism in particular used as justification. One must wonder why these religions would put so much focus on sexual identity and behavior that they would justify hurting or killing someone, but they do. And statements simply saying “we believe in peace” is not enough – we need people of faith to question why tenets against sexual minorities are even important to their religions at all, let alone something of such dire importance to discriminate or incite violence (or call special legislative sessions). They should to start to move away from these doctrines even if it is a break with “tradition”, and make it a priority to speak out against fear, hatred and violence of LGBTQ individuals. And those on the progressive left of U.S. politics, whom I see as comrades in most circumstances, need to also make this a priority. It’s hard to care about who is getting campaign money from whom when misguided laws and violence put ones own existence in question.
I certainly hope this moment doesn’t turn into an excuse for counter violence against anyone, much less a call to war. That would be the wrong outcome. The important thing is for those from communities most responsible for the hate and violence, angry disaffected men and religious communities, to question and show that they are ready to change and to say “no more of this. Not from us.” That’s a lot to ask, but we can at least start.