By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of what happened in Orlando last night.
In case you don’t: Omar Seddique Mateen, 29, attacked Latin night at gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 50 and injuring 53, with the numbers on the rise. It is the deadliest single-gunman mass shooting in the history of the world. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, though it is unclear whether the organization directly planned the attack or if Mateen carried it out independently.
I went through most of today largely unaffected – of course it is a terrible thing to happen, but being so geographically removed and lacking any sort of emotional attachment meant that I regarded it as just another piece of news.
My response surprised me. We are 163 days into 2016, and there have been 173 mass shootings in the U.S.. To put that into perspective: Canada has had 8 mass shootings in past 20 years, America has had 7 this past week.
I’m tearing as I write this. The dam broke when I saw Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling’s tweet regarding one of the victims of the shooting.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 13, 2016
He was 22. That’s only two years older than me. The reality of the world hit me then. Those were real people in that club, people who had their own lives, hopes, dreams, struggles, friends, family, and emotions. They’re not just words on a screen. And now they’re gone, or lying in an ICU. Don’t forget, the club was supposed to be a safe space for them that night. They had gone there to escape from a life of hiding, just one night of freedom and fun with their friends and loved ones. Throughout the day, I’ve kept tabs on Twitter and Tumblr for news and updates. Homophobia and Islamophobia dominate the headlines of news outlets, but the online community is banding together to spread news that the media won’t, and to provide comfort for one another that the world is too hateful to give. People are posting words of grief, condolences, assurances and hope that I have yet to see in the mass media. This shooting was meant to split the community apart and push them away, but they’re banding together stronger. The conversation online is fierce, aggressive and impassioned. I’ve learnt so much in these past hours thanks to these strangers. I hate that it took such a devastating tragedy for it to happen. As I read countless opinion pieces, news articles, and outpourings of emotion, I came across hate in so many forms. Perhaps the most hurtful were the heterosexual ‘allies’. Maybe their intentions were good. Maybe their goals were pure. But that doesn’t mean that they can take this tragedy and turn it around, turn it into something for them to flaunt their support for the LGBTQA+ community. Especially if they were not supporters before today. Their messages of support grated on the nerves of many, who were sick and tired of the cloying positivity they were shown. It felt superficial and unfeeling. Another twist in the story is Donald Trump’s unbelievable gloating over the massacre. He grabbed hold of the press coverage to generate more noise in support of his own Islamophobic plans, fuelling the hate of his generally less well-informed, easily swayed supporters.
Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
“Appreciate the congrats”? How could he disregard the suffering and loss of hundreds of families for his own selfish interests? He also pressed for President Obama to blame the shooting on “radical Islamic terrorism”. His tweets rubbed salt into the wounds of not only the bereaved, but also the members of the community. Instead of calling for the unity of the people, he pushed for the banning of Muslims from America. I guess he didn’t see this newspaper clipping.
This is from Dubai. Dubai is a Muslim country. Not only do they denounce Mateen’s act of violence, they also identified it as homophobic and tragic. How could anyone think Muslims support him?
— Kevin Nadal, Ph.D. (@kevinnadal) June 12, 2016
As reporters around the world investigate the circumstances of this hateful crime, many details about Mateen surface. He’s run into police trouble before for racist remarks and terrorist ties. His father also told NBC News about how Mateen became enraged after seeing two men kissing, in front of his wife and their child.
Moving on to the media’s coverage of the shooting. There is so much emphasis on Mateen’s ties to ISIS and not enough on the fact that this was a hate crime, targeted at the LGBTQA+ community. The report that stood out to me was the following:
TODAY newspaper censored their reporting, failing to include the fact that the club at which the shooting happened was a gay club.
But there is hope. All day today, lines have snaked around blocks across America, people lining up to donate blood to help the hospitals deliver aid to the victims admitted there. However, the homophobia is still real and still hindering members of the LGBTQA+ community: gay men still cannot donate blood, according to law. Seeing as it is their community under threat, the law has come under intense criticism.
Header photo from Telegraph.co.uk