It’s been just over 2 weeks since the mass shooting at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida where 49 people were killed. As a member of the LGBTQ communities, and as a Diversity and Inclusion speaker, facilitator, and consultant (specializing in LGBT Inclusion) it has given me pause on many fronts. Here are a few thoughts.
The media and what we hear / don’t hear.
It was interesting to me that when I first started listening to the news on Sunday afternoon, PULSE was a nightclub frequented by a lot of LGBT patrons.
By Monday morning it was a gay nightclub.
But it wasn’t until I communicated with a friend over email on Monday afternoon, that I became aware most of the victims were Latino. Had I read the paper that morning, that would have been obvious.
I wasn’t tapped into all news sources, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a reminder that we hear what someone wants us to hear – which means it’s biased, reported through a particular lens, and we are potentially missing information.
Also, let’s think about which tragic events are labeled terrorism, and which perpetrators of crimes are labeled terrorists, and which are not. These words seem to be quickly and easily used when someone is not white, and if they are Muslim (or assumed to be). The media often seems to use these labels first and ask questions later in these situations – a courtesy they don’t seem to extend to white suspects or perpetrators. Hmmm…. In the world of unconscious bias, it seems that terrorism/terrorist, brown and Muslim are inextricably intertwined. Pay attention to that in the news. Notice.
Homophobia is alive and well.
There is more to this than you think.
The shooter has been described as homophobic, and his disgust at seeing two men kissing some time before was speculated to have fuelled the attack.
So was homophobia a motive? Since the nightclub was a gay nightclub, we can assume it was.
Here are a few things about homophobia:
- It’s systemic – and then we call it heterosexism.
We live in a world that assumes everyone is heterosexual or straight.
Many laws underscore this – marriage being one of the last to change in North America. The language used in policy and lawmaking can open up rights or cut people off from them.
Many countries around the world still have being LGBT as a crime – and in 10 countries it’s punishable by death. Still.
- Disregarding the homophobic nature of this attack is also an example of homophobia.Some people didn’t/don’t want to recognize this as a hate-motivated crime. That disregard is a further example of homophobia because it again seeks to make LGBTQ people invisible. It’s a perfect head-in-the-sand example: if I don’t see it or talk about it, it doesn’t exist.
Imagine what’s it’s like to be so hated that someone doesn’t even want to think that you exist. Imagine what that will do to your sense of self, your self-esteem, your ability to love yourself.
Homophobia can be internalized
Here comes the loop – if the message someone is getting from society and the people around them (including those they love and who love them) is that they are bad, evil, wrong, disgusting or that they don’t even exist, how can they possibly love themselves and be all of who they are? It’s impossible.
So then one has to make a choice: to be who you are and become all of those terrible things in the eyes of the people who care about you (and others – often many others depending on where you live) or to deny who you are. Both are painful.
It is no surprise then, to find out that the shooter was at the very least questioning his sexual orientation or was bisexual, that he had relationships and encounters with men. If you hate who you are (strong word and I’m using it on purpose), then it isn’t a far walk to hate others who are like you. And if you can’t be who you are, it can be difficult to watch others who can and are. And that pain, I imagine, might result in inflicting severe pain on others who make this pain more real for you by living and loving life in a way you cannot.
The more we create LGBT inclusive spaces, the more (and the earlier) we talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and create classrooms and schools that are LGBT inclusive, the more opportunities we will have, as societies, to grow, accept, and love everyone. The more opportunities LGBT people will have to feel safe, loved, accepted for who we are. This will help to reduce loneliness, fear, anger, frustration, desperation because we won’t have to choose being invisible over being who we are.
If you’re an ally – we need you to speak up, and speak out. It’s not enough to quietly be supportive of us, we need you to share your commitment out there in the world as you walk through your day. Respond to homophobic comments and ideas. Challenge people to think differently, think again, see more. Allies are crucial to creating safer spaces for LGBT people – you are heard and seen differently; in a way LGBT people may not be, because it’s not personal; it’s not about you.
Sending prayers for Orlando, and everywhere as we work to increase awareness, acceptance and love.
Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
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