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Orlando, homophobia/transphobia and Islamophobia

Isabelle Rowe-Codner

June 19, 2016

Not even a week ago, the world was shocked by what is being called the deadliest mass-shooting in American history. While this statement does not exactly hold against the US’s troubled history of massacres and colonialism, it does reveal the devastating nature of the Orlando tragedy.

At around 2am on Sunday, Omar Mateen opened fire inside of the Pulse nightclub, a bar and gathering place for the LGBT+ community in Orlando. The night of the shooting also happened to be a Latino night at the club, celebrating the diversity of the gay community in Florida. The shooting killed 49 people and injured 53. The police killed Omar Mateen in a standoff.

In the aftermath of this crime, the LBGT+ community around the world has been collectively mourning and uniting against hatred, but not without further struggle. People within the LGBT+ community have a long-standing history of violence against them, and of having that violence remain silent.

In 2011, a reported 37.7 per cent of LGBT+ people have reported discrimination at their work because of their gender/sexuality, 78% per cent of transgender people have faced severe harassment in childhood, and transwomen—while making up roughly 10 per cent of the total hate crime victims—represent 45 per cent of hate crime fatalities. This is all of course in addition to the rampant poverty, sickness, and dramatic suicide rates which affect the LGBT+ community for the sole reason that they have a gender identity and/or sexuality that does not adhere to capitalist norms.

Mateen has been accused of many homophobic incidents in the past: his past co-workers said that he would go off the rail on the subject, and his father has mentioned that Omar stated his disgust upon seeing two men kissing. Other reports suggest that Mateen himself was in fact gay. This comes from multiple eyewitness accounts, including a performer at the Pulse club, saying “Mateen had been going to the club for at least three years.” According to MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times, he also used gay dating apps. Telesurtv has also released a report stating that the ex-wife of Omar Mateen had been told by the FBI not to disclose Mateen’s homosexuality to the American press. With secrecy and allegations it is hard to define the truth, and it could quite possibly be that some of these reports are out of proportion, but that does not mean that they can be discredited. The idea of a person struggling with homosexuality who has also been trained by society to despise such an identity and then lash out in homophobic rage is not unheard of.


As reports of the Orlando hate crime started rolling in, so did the hysteric cries of reaction. The mainstream media was in a frenzy, claiming to defend an oppressed group while at the same time perpetuating the status quo. Many hard line right-wingers claimed that this attack was an attack on Americans as a whole—Fox News for one, spinning it as a terrorist attack that was in response to US intervention in the Middle East. Some, including certain Florida politicians, even refused to acknowledge the homosexual leanings of the nighttime establishment. However, amongst those who concede that this was a hate crime against the LGBT+ community, there is still a rampant Islamophobia taking form.

Fox News came out with an article on Omar Mateen stating that while in the nightclub, he posted to Facebook that “America and Russia (must) stop bombing the Islamic State”—as a way for Fox News to push for more bombing in the Middle East. But this was the first time he has been reported as doing such. In fact, members of his family claim that Omar’s faith was minimal at best, that he was not a devout Muslim whatsoever.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric can even be seen seeping into socialist discussions in some instances. The argument these people use to defend bigotry is that religion is itself oppressive, and that we must fight religion in all its forms, taking out of context the leftist adage of religion being the “opium of the people.” While it is true that religious institutions are routinely used to further the agenda of the ruling class, we must not be so quick to criticize every religious person or community. There is nothing inherent to a metaphysical belief in a creator that is backwards or regressive. To paraphrase Muslim author Dr. Deepa Kumar, Muslim countries are just as diverse in their views as Western countries: there are conservatives, liberals, and even socialists, just as we have here. We must also not forget the routine dismantling of democracy within the Middle East through Western intervention. While it is true that many Muslim states are currently dictatorships and theocracies, it is only this way because of imperialism and the same capitalist policies that plague Western governments.


As a trans-woman who has been witnessing this media frenzy unfold, one thing is clear to me: if we want to help the LGBT+ community, if we want to be there for support, and to help this violence end, then we need to listen to the community. Throughout this debacle there have been many traditionally anti-gay spokespeople “standing up” for the community, but it has all been for an agenda. Why are we letting Fox News and the mass media dictate the nature of these crimes? Let us allow the LGBT+ community do the talking: this was not an attack on America, and it is highly doubtful that this was a religious attack.

Why is it that people who are now saying that they are with our community being able to speak for the community? Not only is it controlling public sentiment and again delegitimizing the community, but it is also pushing the LGBT+ movement further to the right. By silencing the voices of oppressed people, and giving those voices to the elite, who pretend to be in favour of the community, you gain reactionaries—who are so tired of being voiceless, that they will accept whatever representation they can get, whether it be a Pride line at Target, or bigotry against Muslims.

The West should get out of the Middle East, and should also get its capitalist claws out of the gay community, for liberation is something that can only happen for all oppressed people. We must mourn those we have lost this week. We must act in solidarity, and we must break these chains of oppression together. We are revolutionaries, not reactionaries. We have a world to win.

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