The Wheel and Axle

Homophobia knows no color or creed.

by on Jun.13, 2016, under Queer, Society

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Less than a week after I wrote about IDAHOT and the continued struggle of the LGBT community around the world against hatred and violence, Omar Mateen massacred fifty people and injured fifty-three others when he stormed the Pulse gay club in Orlando, Florida. It is now the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States and their deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11.

And make no mistake about it: this was a terrorist attack. Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS during the attack itself.

That this happened during Pride month, which this year also happens to be Ramadan for the Muslim world, makes the tragedy even more poignant and heartbreaking.

What is disturbing, however, is that the other aspect of this tragedy has either been minimized or swept under the rug.

This was also a hate crime.

Of course, one can argue that all terrorist attacks are intrinsically hate crimes. However, for the sake of this situation, let’s go with the (truly unnecessary distinction) of “terrorism” and “hate crime” and point out that – outside LGBT circles – very little focus has been given on the fact that this was a deliberate attack against the queer community.

Twitter user Tara O’Connor a.k.a. @TaraOComics nailed it right on the head: many people turn a blind eye towards the homophobic aspect of this attack because it implies they share a trait with a mass murderer.

Instead, these people focus on the religious and race aspect, conveniently forgetting that their own religion and race may not have a good record when it comes to LGBT rights and protection.

Is it not convenient for people with agendas to distill Orlando as simply a radical Islam attack? Not surprisingly, it has also spiralled into another vitriolic gun-control debate, which is well and good but clearly ignores the true root cause of the problem.

Why skirt around the real issue here?

Why ignore the fact that Mateen’s father has said that homophobia played a role – that Omar had been angered at the sight of two men kissing a few months ago?

Did we miss the fact that the man specifically targeted an entire club full of gay people?

How is this not a hate crime?

Turn a blind eye on the hate crime aspect, and you give homophobia a pass in order to elevate your Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Turn a blind eye on the hate crime aspect, and you give homophobia a pass in order to advance your pro-gun or anti-gun agenda.

This is not about your agenda. This is about people dying because they are reviled for something that deserves no hatred. This is about the social structures and norms that allow homophobia to thrive in the first place.

Omar Mateen: American.

Omar Mateen: American.

What is particularly alarming is that people like to highlight the fact that the perpetrator was Muslim but often leave out the fact that – despite his Asian ancestry – Omar Mateen was an American.

Omar Mateen was born in New York.

Just like Timothy McVeigh.

When Jennifer Laude was killed by Joseph Pemberton, how much attention was given to Pemberton’s religious background?

When Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson murdered Matthew Shephard, how many people focused on their status as white Americans?

And yet: when Omar Mateen massacred and hurt over a hundred people, he is primarily branded as a Muslim man of Afghan heritage.

But the “American” part is rarely mentioned.

This makes it easy for the herd to make an incorrect assumption that Mateen was an outsider – an illegal immigrant or an invader. This makes it easy for certain politicians to further fan the flames of xenophobia and advance their agenda.

Make no mistake about it: Omar Mateen was an American who killed his fellow Americans because of his homophobia. Yes, it was fueled by radical ISIS ideology, but  it was still primarily because of his homophobia.

And that is the problem.

It’s very easy to blame outside forces for a tragedy like this. However, it’s not so easy to recognize that the forces that shaped this man’s mind were also partly internal, something which people may have either actively or passively contributed to: the culture of queer hatred around him that has been sanctioned or at least tolerated by “normal” society.

13450783_10154196502712305_8442896363798694727_nThis is the same culture of queer hatred found everywhere around the world, where – even without direct violence – the words of people in authority or people deemed as role models influence and shape the minds of their followers.

When such people speak ill or disgust of the queer community, actions on their part are no longer necessary. It is their words, no matter how seemingly innocuous, that poison the mind of their listeners and shape a social consciousness that makes it seem okay to hurt anyone who is different.

It is their words that tell you that it’s okay to kill the queers because they are inferior.

It’s the little things that escalate towards violence.

No, this culture of queer hatred exists not just within the bounds of radical Islam in some far-away exotic Middle East country. It also exists in radical Christianity, as Westboro and Uganda can attest. It also exists in the atheist community, lest we forget that Joseph Stalin recriminalized male homosexuality in Russia when he came into power.

Homophobia is not the province of one religion.

Homophobia is not the province of one race.

Homophobia is an encompassing social illness.

The sooner the world realizes that this homophobic culture is driven not just by action but also by simple words, the sooner we will be able to put an end to the senseless deaths of innocent people.

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