Coming to terms with at has happened in Orlando is an almost impossible task. Putting to paper how I feel is equally difficult. This is largely because of the horrific nature of this attack. It is the worst mass shooting in US history, but also the worst targeted killing of LGBT+ people in the West since the Holocaust. And my grief and despair are made all the more painful by the sudden onset of vulnerability I feel as a member of the LGBT+ community.
This attack was carried out inside a gay club, Pulse. It is not the first time clubs have been the target of homophobic violence. The Stonewall Riots were a response to police attacking an LGBT+ venue in New York in June 1969, which resulted in the creation of Pride every year to commemorate this event and celebrate the bravery shown by those who fought back. And more recently, in 1999 a neo-Nazi detonated a nail bomb in a gay pub, The Admiral Duncan in Soho. Yet the fact remains that gay clubs are the focal point for LGBT+ people, because historically were and are the only place where LGBT+ people can be themselves without fear of judgement or the danger of being attacked. In reality, history shows that the safety of these venues are something of a myth, but before the events of this weekend the idea of LGBT+ people being targeted in such a horrific manner in the one place where we usually feel safe was unimaginable.
We have lost 50 members of our community, in a brutal and pointless attack that has left our safe-spaces tarnished. This was an attack against LGBT+ people. This attack was homophobic and transphobic in its motive. To argue against this, as many have done, is to deny the LGBT+ community the right to mourn the loss of so many and so much. To witness media outlets and politicians ignoring the targeted nature of this event has led to the realisation that regardless of how equal LGBT+ people become in the eyes of the law, we remain to varying degrees second class citizens in the eyes of a vast portion of western society. During a broadcast on Sky News, journalist Owen Jones was repeatedly shouted down when he tried to point out that this was a homophobic attack against LGBT people. The Telegraph dedicated most of its front page to the Queen’s birthday, while the Daily Mail declined to mention the attack at all on theirs. Meanwhile, the US presidential-hopeful Donald Trump has used this to back-up his policy of deporting Muslims, ignoring the fact that the attacker was an American citizen. The Republican party has condemned this attack, overlooking the fact that it targeted a sector of US society that it has repeatedly discriminated against, through legislation like HB2 – something that can be directly linked to greater rates of suicide and self-harm in the LGBT+ community.
In our time of grief, the LGBT+ community have been confronted by misunderstanding and inadequacy. We have watched people who have repeatedly attacked us take ownership of our pain for their own agenda. The perpetrator of this attack claims to have done this in the name of Islamic State, but for the West to lay the blame at the door of religious extremism is to ignore the underlying truth that the West remains an inherently homophobic, transphobic and anti-LGBT place. In the US it is acceptable to be homophobic and transphobic. In the UK it is acceptable to tell man on live TV that his grief and opinions are invalid.
I am distraught that this has happened. Yes, this would never have occurred if the US had gun control, but every day LGBT+ people all over the world die as a result of discrimination, hatred and violence. They suffer because of who they are.
Therefore, I am also angry; angry because despite decades of fighting this can still happen, angry that time and again politicians, corporations and media organisations adopt our pain and struggles for their own gain whilst giving us nothing in return. These 50 people died in a place where they felt safe to be themselves and they died because they were being themselves. This was an attack against LGBT+ people. It is time we acknowledge that LGBT+ people are not equal, that our community continues to suffer, and that there is much left to fight for.