Observations on the Orlando Shooting

When I awoke on June 12, I reached for my cellphone as I always do upon waking, and saw a group message from my sister to our parents and myself.  The message was about the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. She was letting us know that she was safe. See, my sister and my parents all live in Orlando. In fact, my sister lives with a roommate just a few miles from Pulse. Moreover, she’s friends with many people in the queer community down there, and has been to that club before. I was deeply, deeply heartened to know that she wasn’t among the victims of that horrific tragedy (nor was her roommate, who actually considered going there that night.Normally when I wake in the morning, I need about half an hour to become alert and “with it”. Not on that day. The news immediately rocked me out of my post-sleep slump. I searched around for more information on the shooting and found that 20 people were listed dead with many more injured. A few hours later, that number shot up to 50, though it was later learned that one of the people listed among the dead was actually alive. Wielding a semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 rifle (both quick-reloading weapons) that he was able to buy with ease roughly a week before his attack, Mateen ruthlessly, maliciously, destroyed dozens upon dozens of LGBTQIA lives. His actions also irrevocably altered the lives of those victims who survived, some of whom are still fighting to stay alive. The act of terror also had a ripple effect, extending outward from Orlando to the rest of the state and beyond. How could it not? It felt like….it WAS an act of terror upon a community constantly faced with an oppressive heteronormative, cisnormative society that says YOUR LIVES DON’T MATTER. Like many, I was struck by the horror of that day. I was affected as were so many others. I do not pretend to have been victimized like those that died, or the survivors. But as a member of the LGBTQIA community, the events of that night did have an effect upon me. The following is less a blog post and more of an attempt to get my thoughts out in something resembling a coherent form.

  • First things first, this was primarily an attack on the QUILTBAG community. Yes, we are all citizens of this country, but too many people are whitewashing what happened, as if it happened to “all Americans”. It was a domestic terrorist attack on United States soil that specifically targeted the queer community. And that’s one of the scariest things. Up until several years ago, I was a clubgoer. I loved (still do) getting my groove on on a dancefloor, having some drinks, and socializing. But not just anywhere, bc it isn’t just anywhere that queer people can go and feel welcome and safe. Queer clubs have long been one of the few venues in which members of the community can go and express their identities without the fear and ostracization heaped upon them by society at large. We should be safe there. These clubs should be a safe space for members of our community. We shouldn’t have to worry about outbreaks of violence that specifically target the queer community.
  • And among that community, a specific demographic-the Latinx community-was specifically harmed. The night of the shooting was a night that queer Latinx ppl came out to party and to celebrate in an environ that they should have been safe in. A place where they should have been free from the social ills that plague our country.
  • One of the first things I thought of upon hearing the news was “I hope the guy is not Muslim”, bc I knew an onslaught of anti-Muslim bigotry would flow forth if that were the case, and I am beyond sick to death of Muslims being treated as terrorists. As many have said, a multitude of times, YES-Muslim extremists do exist and they do commit acts of terror to achieve their political goals. But FFS, there are billions of Muslims on the planet, and all but the smallest fraction of them are peaceful people who simply want to live their lives like every bit as much Chad or Becky McWhitey. But in the West, thanks to rampant anti-Muslim bigotry (found, btw, in people all across the political spectrum), they are subjected to intense bigotry because they are all viewed as threats. As terrorists. Some people are irrationally worried that Sharia Law is being implemented on US soil (it’s not). Some are worried that we shouldn’t allow Syrian refugees into the country bc they’re a potential threat (they’re trying to flee from war, famine, chaos, and death; they’re not trying to bring that here). There are those who think banning all Muslims from the country would somehow benefit the US (I’ll tell you what would benefit the country far more-PAY ATTENTION TO THE FUCKING DOMESTIC TERRORISTS WE HAVE WITHIN OUR BORDERS). There are those coughcoughSamHarriscoughcough who think it is reasonable for Muslims to be profiled at airports (as of this writing, I’ve yet to read his answer on *how* Muslims would be profiled and what evidence he has that profiling would weed out potential terrorists). These people view all Muslims as if they are  all a threat bc some incredibly small number of them are. It’s bigoted. It’s prejudiced. It’s hateful. And as we all know, prejudice and bigotry are as American as apple pie (despite claims otherwise, our prejudice and bigotry have long been part of the value system in the United States; they aren’t part of the ideals this country was built upon, but they are part of the value system). Sure enough, when it was reported that Omar Mateen was Muslim, the Muslimphobes came out with a vengeance, calling for an end to immigration from “those” countries. Calling for a war against Islam. Using this attack as an excuse to air their prejudices and inflame tensions between Muslims and the Western world.
  • And *that* pissed me off. I spent much of Sunday in ‘Hulk Smash’ mode, in part bc I saw so many people using this devastating tragedy to further their anti-Muslim agenda. Conservative politicians and pundits who typically do not care for the queer community took to the airwaves and social media seemingly to denounce the attack. I don’t know who the fuck they thought they were fooling, but most of us who pay attention to the treatment of queers in the US know that we aren’t high on their “give a fuck about” list. In fact, some individuals took this opportunity to express their joy at the attack, reminding us that they don’t give a shit about our lives. But even among those that didn’t gleefully masturbate to the thought of dying queers, I don’t buy for one second the faux concern they have for the lives of those lost in the rampage. They didn’t shed any tears for us. They’re using us. They are politicizing this tragedy for their own ends (which is almost funny bc they always whine and moan about how we shouldn’t advocate for gun control measures in the wake of a mass shooting bc that “politicizes the tragedy).
  • But was Mateen even a Muslim to begin with? Some people do not believe that he was. If we ignore his 911 call to the police in which he declared his affiliation with ISIS, then sure, he wasn’t a Muslim. If we also ignore the fact that he grew up in a Muslim household, then sure, it’s possible he wasn’t Muslim. But why would you ignore that? Is it possible people want him to not be a Muslim bc they are worried about being perceived as anti-Muslim for condemning his actions? If that’s the case, then people are more worried about how they are perceived than whether or not their arguments are sound and their criticism valid. But here’s the thing, though: even *if* Mateen wasn’t Muslim, he was clearly influenced by Islamic teachings as seen in his vile homophobic actions. He grew up in a home with a Muslim father whom we know holds disdain for homosexuals. And we also know that Islam has a problem with homophobia. We know that bc we’ve been told by current and ex-Muslims who have shared their stories of the bigotry they experienced or witnessed in their community. Recognizing his background and criticizing the bigotry that he absorbed does not make one a bigot.
  • There was more to it of course. Mateen grew up in the United States. A country permeated with toxic, retrograde notions of masculinity. These notions are inculcated in men (and women) from a young age. They lead people to believe that there are proper behaviors and attitudes that men are supposed to possess and exhibit. Specific skills, abilities, and traits are coded as masculine. When men deviate from the norm, and do not behave in the socially approved manner for men or when men have traits that are not viewed as traditionally masculine by society, they are pressured to conform. That’s one of the core issues at the heart of homophobia: the enforcement of a rigid gender binary that punishes anyone who attempts to push against societal norms. The enforcement is often quite nasty.
  • Displays of aggression and a tendency toward displays of violence are masculine coded traits in the US. Sometimes male expressions of aggression and violence can be channeled in healthy ways, such as sports (although even here, there are a great many cases where such traits are found in excess and lead to others being harmed). Unfortunately, too many men-especially, though not exclusively, cisgender, heterosexual men-overcome with bitterness, a sense of entitlement (whether to power, money, or respect), and frustration at perceived slights lash out. The results of which are often profound suffering, as can be seen in the rates of domestic violence in the United States. Sometimes these men don’t lash out. Instead, they choose to use their power to establish dominance over others, as one sees in the high rate of rape and sexual assault in this country. Other times, that dominance is expressed in homophobia or transphobia, as men seek to assert their manhood and remind other men the “proper” way to behave. Such behavior frequently manifests through the use of belittling or derogatory insults and slurs or even violence against members (or those perceived to be members) of the QUILTBAG community. Aggressive, aggrieved, violent men present a significant problem in this country. One that is exacerbated to even greater levels by the widespread availability of firearms.
  • Mass shootings are a regular occurrence in the US. Orlando. Columbine. Newtown. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. Colorado Springs. Charleston. Aurora. Isla Vista. Over and over again, gun violence ends lives, tears families apart, and shatters communities. The vast majority of these mass shooters are aggrieved, entitled, violent men. Access to firearms, which is made easy in so many states in the US, grants them the capability of injuring or killing large numbers of innocent people. Because our country just has to have that goddamn Second Amendment. The one that may as well read “Everyone has the right to bear arms” since the “well-regulated militia” part is almost always ignored by pro-gun activists. It’s certainly ignored by the NRA, whose only concern seems to be to ensuring that all people in this country who want a gun can have one. Period. They stand in the way of any and all sensible regulations on gun control. The levels of gun violence in the United States are unparalleled in the Western world.  Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, there have been nearly 1,000 mass shootings in the United States, 133 of which have happened this year alone. People like to say that the United States is an exceptional country. One thing we’re exceptional for is being the world leader in mass shootings (we also lead the world in gun ownership WOO HOO)! That’s beyond fucked up. When Australia’s Port Arthur Massacre happened, politicians and citizens came together and said “no more”. They haven’t had any mass shootings since then. And that was in 1996! Our neighbor to the north, Canada, also has nothing like the gun violence we have in the US. The difference between the US and countries like Australia and Canada are access to guns-they’re everywhere, and easier to obtain than an abortion-and a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the citizenry the right to own a firearm. There is no need in this country for a citizen militia. We have armed forces to protect us. Without the need for a militia, civilians do not need to have a right to own guns. I, and many, many others, are so tired of the gun violence in this country. I would dearly love to see the Second Amendment repealed. But there is not enough will for that in the United States, even among those who strongly support gun control. So in lieu of that, we need stricter gun control. We need to prevent felons, persons on terrorist watch lists, and convicted domestic abusers from being able to legally own a gun. We need to make it illegal to buy, sell, and own military grade firearms. We need to make mandatory waiting periods for gun ownership and universal background checks. We need to eliminate the gun show loopholes and track gun purchases both on and offline. None of these things is going to immediately reduce the massive levels of gun violence in this country, but in the longer term, they will likely be of benefit. We have to do something, bc I’m sick to death of all the death, and I’m beyond tired of seeing politicians respond to an incident of gun violence not with calls for regulation, but with “thoughts and prayers”
  • Private citizens who want to offer their thoughts and prayers to those affected by gun violence can have at it. I think it’s useless, since there is no deity out there to solve the problem of gun violence. No deity who is going to bring loved ones back, or heal their critical injuries. No deity who is going to cure survivors of PTSD. But if civilians want to offer their useless thoughts and prayers bc it brings them or others comfort, ok. Fine. But that’s no excuse for the continued inaction of politicians. In the wake of a mass shooting, nothing meaningful is done to reduce mass shootings or the wider problem of gun violence in society. The only thing offered in the wake of these tragedies are calls for “thoughts and prayers” from Republicans (and some Democrats too). And that’s followed up by exactly Jack. Shit. No, wait. I’m sorry. There is something else commonly heard in the wake of these mass shootings.
  • “The shooter must have been mentally ill”. People often attribute mass shootings to mentally ill people, despite the lack of evidence for such, and despite the fact that mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of gun violence rather than the perpetrators of it. Treating mass shooters as if they are all mentally ill is a circular argument employed by politicians and civilians alike. It works something like this: “This mass shooting is horrible. It’s inconceivable. Someone who is sane would never do something like this. The shooter must have been crazy or insane.” That circular reasoning is offered up after Every. Single. Shooting. There is never any evidence put forth. There is never a well-reasoned argument backed by reputable research put forth. Just the ableist assertion. And yes, it is ableist to assert that mass shooters are mentally ill. “Must have” been mentally ill? Really? Why? Because they committed an act of unspeakable horror? Because they killed many people? Last time I checked, military service personnel on the front lines often find themselves killing multiple people, but you don’t see people leaping to claim that an Army officer is mentally ill bc they shot and killed 5 people. Yes, there’s a bit more nuance there, bc people view that Army officer differently than they do a civilian. They look at the actions of the officer as being justified and lawful, whether they understand the reasons or not. Contrast that with the civilian who isn’t killing with the permission of the government. They aren’t at war. They shouldn’t have any reason to kill someone. Yet they did. The fact that there is no official sanctioning of the actions of a civilian shooter may make many people think it was a senseless act. But in the end, whether it’s a mass shooter, or an Army officer, we’re still talking about multiple people dead. If a mass shooter is mentally ill for killing 5 people, then the Army officer ought to be as well. That’s not the case though, and I dearly wish people would stop throwing mentally ill folks under the bus in their haste to explain such violent acts. All that winds up happening is the further demonization of a marginalized group.
  • Speaking of which, there are many people who are calling for deporting immigrants, or ramping up the war against Daesh, or calling for violence against Muslims. There are also plenty of people who are using this latest incident of gun violence to push for legislation to reduce the chances of future rampages. The former is reprehensible, the latter commendable. But one thing I do not see happening to any great degree, and certainly not in the media or among politicians, is an open and frank discussion of the decades-long targeting of the QUILTBAG community by conservatives and religious fundamentalists. Omar Mateen’s homophobic views were not only influenced by the teaching of Islam (and yes, there is homophobia within Muslim communities around the world), but also by the culture in which he was raised-here in the United States. Politicians, pundits, priests, and pastors have, for so very long condemned gays and lesbians. We’ve been called deviants, subjected to harmful conversion therapy, been prevented from adopting or visiting loved ones in the hospital, been kicked out of our homes by the people who are supposed to love and care for us, been ostracized by the church community that is supposed to support us, been the victims of bullying and harassment, been equated with pedophiles, told that we’re destroying the foundation of society, been the target of hate speech from presidential candidates, and so much more. Transgender people have experienced discrimination in the workplace, in housing, in the prison system, and are often the victims of violent, transphobic attacks (with trans women of color experiencing the worst of said assaults). Currently, there are religious leaders and politicians around the United States arguing for the creation of so-called ‘bathroom bills’, which treat trans women as if they are predators seeking to attack cis women and girls in restrooms–a belief that is not grounded in reality. Seriously, there is no documented evidence of a trans woman attacking a cis female in the bathroom. In fact, the reverse is far more likely to happen, since trans people experience high levels of violence. We also have governors of entire states that refuse to entertain workplace protections for members of the QUILTBAG community and we still see legislation being pushed ostensibly in support of “religious freedom”, but which have the effect of enabling businesses to refuse to serve someone on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Marginalization and oppression of queer bodies is prevalent in society. I see no way that Mateen would have been immune to the cultural forces that shape society; forces that continue to result in queer people being seen and treated as inferior. Forces that serve to remind us daily that our lives don’t matter. So in addition to the push for gun legislation, I also would like to see some national discussion about improving the quality of life for the QUILTBAG community. I want to see measures aimed at granting us the same protections in public accommodations that cisgender, heterosexual folks enjoy. I want to see hate crimes legislation passed in *all* 50 states to penalize people who target trans folks with violence. I want schools to treat bullying against queer youth as a serious offense. I want prisons to house transgender prisoners in the wings that correspond to their gender identity. And I want to see more people who are *not* part of the community standing up for us. We’re going to continue fighting for our rights, to be sure. But it sure would be grand if we had more allies along the way that are willing to stand up and criticize the homophobia from their friends and family. It would be lovely if cis folks would condemn the transphobia they hear from co-workers. I’d love to start hearing more stories of homophobic or transphobic bigots in public establishments being shouted down by non-queer people. We deserve to be treated equitably. Not because we’re your cousins, daughters, sisters, uncles, aunts, fathers, sons, friends, or co-workers, but because we are human beings deserving of dignity and respect. For too long, we have been denied that and as we continue to push for a better world, it would be really cool if the people who like us and love us and care about us, but who have remained silent for so long, would stand up in the face of queerphobia. Don’t talk over us. Don’t make your voices more important than ours. Amplify our voices. But also back us up. Stand up for us, even when we’re not around. Be firm with those around you who would seek to perpetuate ignorance and bigotry. Instead of letting bigotry continue to wash over society like an unrelenting wave, crushing queer lives, hopes, and dreams, do not budge. Do not back down. Plant yourself like the tallest, sturdiest oak tree and assert that yes, QUEER LIVES MATTER.

I offer my deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friend of those killed in the Pulse attacks, as well as those who continue to fight for their lives. Listed below are the names of those deceased. May they live on forever in the hearts, minds, and memories of those that loved and cared for them.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old


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Observations on the Orlando Shooting

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