I’ve been racking my brain in search of the right thing to say. But at a time like this, what can I say about the Orlando shooting that hasn’t already been said? To reach for generic terminology to express my feelings seems futile. If you’re reading this, you already know the shooting was “horrible”. That it was a “nightmare”. That it was “upsetting”. “Tragic”. We’ve been here before, and we find ourselves here far too often. And while this is the worst possible example of what can happen when hate meets violence, we’re still going through the normal mass shooting motions.
The authorities and the press are piecing together clues at record rates to paint a portrait of the gunman. Social media users are embroiled in heated and passionate debates about Islamophobia and gun reform. Our news networks and morning shows have turned into special editions dedicated fully to covering every single angle of the story. The presidential candidates have chimed in in an attempt to use their carefully crafted responses as bargaining pleas with potential voters. All of it feels familiar. Rehearsed. Empty. Action seems to be the one result that isn’t coming out of this.
I spent my Saturday night at a gay bar. I’m one of several moderators of a popular gay Facebook group named BOYZ. The group has over 5,000 active members and pulls them together for monthly mixers in select cities across the country. Saturday night was our Pride edition mixer. It was a time for us to get together and celebrate. Celebrate our freedom to be ourselves without living in fear. Celebrate the fact that our country recognizes our love is no different from anyone else’s love. It was a time for us to bond, laugh, drink, dance, and live in our gayness. I’m sure that’s exactly what our fellow LGBT community members in Orlando were doing early Sunday morning when their lives were taken or forever changed.
I don’t live in Orlando. I don’t personally know any of the victims. I don’t even typically take to social media or public opinion spaces to share my thoughts on mass shootings or national tragedies. But this is one instance where I can’t stay quiet. And it’s not because of the magnitude of death. Yes, the Orlando shooting is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history. But it isn’t this jaw-dropping statistic that caught my attention. I’m pulled into this tragedy because it happened in my backyard. Though I’m thousands of miles away from the gruesome scene at Pulse Nightclub, that could have easily been me or my fiancé or any of my friends.
The media, government officials, and pretty much anyone I can think of has been squabbling over what to call this. Was it an act of terror? Was it a hate crime? But isn’t every terrorist act a crime of hate? Why was it so impossible for people to immediately see that this was an instance of both? Omar Mateen targeted this club because of his hate. He purposely drove to Pulse Nightclub to kill gay people. That is the very definition of a hate crime.
I can easily fall down the rabbit hole of discussion. Is this ultimately linked to radical Islamic terrorism? Is Omar Mateen a victim of Florida’s failing mental health efforts? How could a man be investigated by the FBI multiple times and still have the ability to buy firearms? There are lots of questions. There are lots of opinions. And surely there will be a lot of new information as the days and weeks go on. But we can’t lose sight of what the real issue is here. What ultimately caused the untimely deaths of these people was hate.
Though Omar Mateen was a Muslim, this isn’t about religion. This isn’t an excuse to spread Islamophobia. Because there are tons of non-Muslim American people who applauded his actions and supported his violent vision. They took to social media in droves to share their crooked, intolerant views. Their mindset and their beliefs are more dangerous than any radical terrorist or any weapon in this country.
"We have to fight hate at its core."
For Americans, it’s so easy for us to grasp tangible objects but not abstract concepts. Hate is an abstract concept. The deep-rooted base of hate is what’s at the center of this attack. Do we need some kind of gun reform? Yes. But that’s not the only answer. If a mind is fixated on hate and violent solutions to what they view as problems, there’s no law that will stop them. We have to fight hate at its core. It’s that approach that every politician seems incapable of voicing or recognizing. This is a mindset issue. This is about education. Tolerance. Acceptance. Clear Messaging. But for so many people, that type of problem solving isn’t viewed as action. If only they could realize the power of words. Surely, words were the start of what eventually manifested itself as a killing spree in Orlando yesterday morning.
Never before has a mass shooting made me question my safety. I live in New York City where the severely mentally ill freely roam the streets. Where people are slashed and shot on a daily basis. Not only am I jaded by what happens here so often, but I’ve also felt so separated from these types of events. They’ve happened to a different group of people or in a small town. I never felt like I had a reason to worry. I refused to live in fear. But this time, I feel different. We’re just a couple weeks away from New York’s Pride Parade and countless activities. There will be massive gatherings of LGBT people all over. And I can’t help but think-will this happen here? New York is easily home to the most high-profile Pride events in the country. If there’s a copycat lone wolf out there, what’s to stop him from wreaking havoc on another joyous occasion? But on a much larger scale?
I wish I could tell everyone with enthusiasm that they shouldn’t let anything stop them from celebrating Pride. But I’d be lying. Because I’m scared. And perhaps that’s the ultimate effect of terrorism. There’s the loss of life and all that comes with grief and recovery. But there’s also a shift. We’re unable to view the world in the same way again. It changes how we live, where we go, what we say. And until there’s a bigger indicator that our society recognizes hate as the cause of everything that’s happening, will it be safe to live freely as we are and love who we love?
I don’t know.
Somewhat unrelated, the real winner in all this eclipse madness is Bonnie Tyler. Talk about maximizing an opportunity...