Orlando’s Pulse Night Club was supposed to be a safe space. On Saturday night, it was packed with over 300 people celebrating Pride Month with an event dedicated to the Latino LGBT community. Then gunman Omar Mateen opened fire, turning the club into the site of the worst mass shooting in American history.
With 49 people shot dead and 53 wounded in the attack, the LGBT community and its allies nationwide have responded with shock, horror, and disgust. US president Barack Obama called the mass shooting, accurately, an act of terrorism and hate.
But it’s important to remember that the Pulse massacre is an act of terrorism not simply because of its scale or early (and questionable) presumptions about Mateen’s religious leanings. The shooting was an act of terrorism because it was intended to destroy a community and instill a perpetual, psychological state of fear among members of that community.
On Sunday morning, politicians tweeted their condolences and prayers in droves. Like the true narcissist he is, Trump congratulated himself, replete with bad grammar, for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In his appearance on Sunday’s Meet the Press, Bernie Sanders said the massacre was “unthinkable.”
Actually, this act was pretty damn thinkable—especially in America, where mass shootings are more common than days worked by congressmen in Washington DC. That’s right: According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2016, there already have been 133 mass shootings. Congress is scheduled to work a total of 111 days this year. For the American LGBT community, this act was a reminder that we have existed in a permanent state of violence and fear for centuries. Acts of violence against us have never been “unthinkable.”
The police-inflicted violence against predominantly black and brown bodies at Stonewall throughout the late 1960s is one of our most enduring examples. But there is a long, documented history of LGBT spaces in the US becoming the targets of violence. Thirty-two people died in an act of arson against the New Orleans gay nightclub, Upstairs, in 1973. The lesbian bar Otherside in Atlanta was bombed in 1997. Arson was committed at Neighbours Nightclub in Seattle in 2013. And on Sunday, as the dead were still being counted in Orlando, Los Angeles police reported they had stopped a second, unrelated act of terrorism against the LGBT community planned for the Los Angeles Pride Parade and festivities.
Blinded by the brilliant light of marriage equality, politicians have yet to enact laws that safeguard the LGBT community against acts of violence. There is no anti-gender-discrimination law. There is no law that protects individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, the opposite is happening across America. Instead of working to legalize protections on behalf of the LGBT community, lawmakers in states like North Carolina and Ohio are debating discriminatory “bathroom bills” aimed at the LGBT—and specifically trans—community, under the alarmingly false pretenses of “protecting children” and women.
These bathroom bills exist solely to police LGBT bodies. This is not surprising, given that US lawmakers seem hell-bent on policing and regulating women’s bodies generally, whether by curtailing their reproductive rights or dictating where and how they go to the bathroom. And it is critical to note that these bills disproportionately affect women of color, who make up a majority of the LGBT female population.
The root of homophobia is sexism—the fear of the feminine. It is for this basic reason that we must also highlight the fact that constitutional rights are given to guns and not to women.
We can see the connection between homophobia and misogyny in the story of Mateen’s ex-wife, who has said that Mateen regularly beat her while they were married, and that her family had to travel to Florida to rescue her from her abusive husband.
The suspect’s father, Mir Siddique, told NBC News that he thought Mateen could have been driven to this crime because he saw “two men kissing” in downtown Miami. Make no mistake: Mateen’s homophobia is connected to his history of violence against women. It was driven by his fear of the feminine and the effeminate.
The NRA and other gun lobbying groups have ensured that it is ridiculously easy for those who hate to obtain a gun—say, an AR-15 assault rifle like the one Mateen used at Pulse Night Club. This weekend, over 100 beautiful people were killed or injured as they came together in joyous communal spirit during Pride Month. These Americans were celebrating their right to life and love in a place, as Obama said, “of solidarity and empowerment.” They thought they were safe. It was not true.