As the news rolls in from Orlando, with 50 people reported dead and that many more reported injured, the disavowals are flying. Everyone wants to tell us what didn’t cause all this death and trauma. But, well, yeah, it did.
Yes, this is about religion.
Religion is what it takes to give us the authority to look at another person’s consensual pleasure and decide that gives us jurisdiction over their life and death. Nothing else gives us that permission. Nothing else puts us above someone else this way but the borrowed mantle of a god’s judgment. Secular arguments fail spectacularly to do so, which is why LGB rights are a staple of secular activism.
Not only are religious arguments the only one that can give us this permission, they routinely do. It isn’t possible to actively participate in U.S. culture–to view our media, to pay attention to our current events, to educate one’s self in preparation for voting–without being inundated with religious arguments that same-sex attraction and sexual behavior are wrong and harming our society. Nor is this confined to any one religion, making it all the more potent as an idea. Someone raised in a homophobic religious tradition will not have their ideas challenged simply by looking outside their home or community.
Religion planted this idea, makes it pervasive, and gives it power.
Yes, this is about homophobia and transphobia.
Reports are coming out that the shooter was specifically incensed about two men kissing in front of his toddler. This could turn out to be spurious. That wouldn’t tell us that this isn’t about homophobia and transphobia. Someone who wants a target still has to choose that target, and LGBT targets are chosen far more frequently than we’d predict by chance. This is not a surprise.
Think about the way a bully picks a target. They choose to terrorize the outcast, the person perceived as weak, the person whose friends won’t come in a group to protect them. School bullies often go after people perceived as queer or gender-nonconforming because they fit those criteria. These patterns don’t change simply because the bully reaches the age of majority. Their choice of target is still informed and abetted by homophobia and transphobia, theirs or that of society as a whole.
Homophobia and transphobia also have an effect on how this violence affects communities. I can’t count the number of friends who have said today that places like Pulse were supposed to be their refuges against the rest of the world. It wasn’t random forces that pushed so many people my friends identify with together in one place. There is nothing random about the fact that my friends face their vulnerability so starkly today.
Homophobia and transphobia pushed these people together for safety, and homophobia and transphobia are what make that safety so easy to take away.
[ETA: I didn’t address race here because I wasn’t seeing denials of race as an issue. As time goes on, however, I’m mostly not seeing anything at all about race. Instead of denial, we’re getting simple erasure. Yes, this is also about race, for many of the same non-overt reasons it’s about homophobia and transphobia.]
Yes, this is about guns.
I shouldn’t have to make this argument at this point. So many people have made it so well for so long. But here goes.
Sure, there are other ways to kill and injure a large number of people. There are fewer of them that allow you to be mobile and chase down your victims as they try to get away from you. There are fewer that are as easily concealed, as easily reloaded, as easily obtained as guns are here in the U.S. Can you try to dissect any one incident of gun violence to come up with a way in which the same amount of death and destruction could have been obtained? Sure, but that’s a downright unscientific approach. When you look at the broad picture, a pattern emerges.
Yes, that’s The Onion. Sue me. I’m beyond tired of treating arguments that would be shamed out of any other discussion as acceptable and serious when discussing matters of life and death.
This is also about gun culture. When we sell guns to people as a solution to their problems, we have to know guns will be used by people who think they have problems needing solutions. When we sell guns to people as an inherent part of their identities, we have to know that guns will come to the fore when those people feel their identities are challenged. When we build up a culture war around guns, we have to know that guns will play a part in our culture wars. When we say that guns are inviolable, we have to know that people who feel violated in some way will reach for guns.
We have imbued guns with all sorts of associations, and now we reach for guns all too easily available when we want to invoke any of them.
What happened in Orlando was the particular actions of a particular person, but that person lived and made their decisions in our broader culture. Saying that major parts of this culture had no effect on him and his behavior and its consequences is absurd.