One Year Later: The Pulse Orlando Massacre
A year ago today the nation suffered through the deadliest mass shooting in modern history – a massacre that took the lives of 49 LGBTQ people and allies at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because that fateful Saturday night was Latin night, the victims were predominantly persons of color.
Though the shooter – Omar Mateen – targeted one LGBTQ bar in one city, the entirety of the LGBTQ community worldwide felt the pain of those who lost friends and loved ones as well as the fear of those who were in the club and against all odds managed to survive. Across the nation – even in large cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, LA, etc. – LGBTQ people suddenly began viewing what had historically been safe places to gather and let down their guard as a potential threat. They consciously looked where the exits were anytime they joined friends at LGBTQ establishments.
Mateen’s actions served their purpose: they terrorized an entire nation of LGBTQ people and instilled fear in the back of their minds. That’s the ultimate goal of terrorism, after all: fear.
Our community was born in the bars. Everyone knows the story of Stonewall. It is the foundation of our identity and our movement. It is impossible to overstate the fact that even though it is now much easier for many members of the queer community to go into any bar they want, our bars remain our own and for many they truly are the only space they can be their authentic selves. In our bars, we embrace one another. We trust one another. As a people, we love one another.
For many, including myself, the bars and the people in them are our families. These homes, the people in them, are sometimes the only place we feel that we belong.
It is an unspeakable affront to that sense of belonging that in June, the very month we set aside to honor and celebrate our heritage, a man full of hate invaded one of our bars, our safe spaces, and took the lives of 49 beautiful human beings. In a season of fun and festivals, we must now take time to mourn what is not only another international tragedy, but what is also an assault on the very idea that it is possible for queer folks to be who they are without fear.
I wish I could say I was not afraid. Sadly I think that may never be true again. But I am proud. I am proud of seeing my community make the choice today, sometimes without saying a word, to stand together against the fear. We have done it before. We did it at Stonewall. We did it when Harvey Milk was shot. We did it to achieve nationwide marriage equality. And now we will do it again, to repair the bonds of a community that were shattered by a gunman’s bullets, and to forge new bonds of solidarity to help ensure this act of hate will not be just another entry in our country’s long, tragic history with gun violence.
Many hoped the massacre would trigger a substantive conversation about responsible gun ownership and sensible regulations around their purchase. Alas, even the murder of 49 people couldn’t sway conservative lawmakers to turn away their NRA benefactors. Despite a Democratic sit-in, Republicans refused to budge an inch on gun reform.
In fact, a handful of Republicans went so far as to capitalize on those deaths for their own personal and political gain. Less than a week after the bloodiest attack on LGBTQ people in the nation’s history, those same lawmakers got back to business as usual in demonizing LGBTQ people. They refused to accept their role in stoking the animus and learned hatred toward LGBTQ people that led (in part) to the massacre in the first place.
After Republicans stopped feigning outrage and sadness (sending thoughts and prayers through social media channels) and returned to passing legislation aimed at discriminating against LGBTQ people, many across the nation took that as a green light.
At the one month anniversary of the massacre, Republicans reached peak tone deafness by scheduling a hearing to revive the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). FADA is aimed explicitly at discriminating against LGBTQ people.
Perhaps worse than that, one of the ugliest legacies of the massacre – one that’s still having measurable effects a year later – is the GOP’s decision to pit communities against one another using the massacre as a catalyst. In their ‘thoughts and prayers’ many conservatives began stoking a divide between LGBTQ people and the Muslim community – a wedge that fueled groups like “Gays for Trump.”
If my queerness persuaded me to an instant mournfulness, and justifiably so, then the fact that I am both queer and Muslim gave way to a feeling of being stuck. The hate, weaponization, and politicization of my identities was coming from so many angles — and it made me defensive. I watched as Republicans, who have routinely voted for policies and laws that deny queer people legal protection and safety, suddenly cared enough about the LGBTQ community to weaponize the Pulse tragedy to fuel Islamophobia. Over 100 wounded or murdered people at a nightclub — the place where we go to feel safe and dance in our freedom, however temporary it may be — was the perfect chance to justify Islamophobic legislation and use us as mere props in a political game.
The performative outrage I watched was exploitative, and capitalistic in nature. Trump issued a sensationalist statement focusing mostly on the use of the term “radical Islam,” promoting his now defunct Muslim travel ban, and used the moment to take jabs at his Democratic opponents. Hillary Clinton gave a speech shortly after, but despite offering her sympathy to the queer community and calling for stricter gun laws, she spent most of the time sending shots back at Trump.
A year after the Pulse Shooting, a tragic event in which I saw pieces of my identity battling with rage, I still have a problem with “space.” If 2016 was a year of being constantly reminded that any “space” that has been made for me can be exploited, commodified, or ruptured, then 2017 is just a continuation of that trend. As powerful as I feel on my best days, I still feel that all I can do is sit back and watch in the corner I’ve carved for myself that they call “space.”
But I take faith in Audre Lorde’s words: “We were never meant to survive.” Too often, we mistake survival for existence and existence for living. We become familiar with our oppression from several different angles because it becomes normalized, and for those of us at the intersection of several overlapping identities, the suffering becomes normality.
Things haven’t gotten much better for either Muslims or LGBTQ people over the last year, either. After spending the two month anniversary of the massacre speaking at an anti-LGBTQ hate group meeting in Florida, Donald Trump decided to skip visiting the site of the massacre while he was close by. (This is from the man who claims to be the LGBTQ community’s so-called biggest ally).
And then, after his election, Trump began his journey toward dismantling Obama’s LGBTQ legacy from stripping enforcement of LGBTQ federal contractor protections to rolling back trans-inclusive Title IX guidelines issued by the Obama administration Justice and Education departments.
Additionally, for the first time in 8 years, the White House made no pride month proclamation this year. Instead, Trump “celebrated” LGBTQ pride by praising hate group leaders who actively work to harm LGBTQ people. ThinkProgress noted:
The president attended the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference on Friday, where he said he would “promote and protect family values” and “ protect religious liberty in America.” The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an anti-LGBTQ group that vocally opposes same-sex marriage, and has even joined a campaign against gay Boy Scouts of America leaders, in the name of their interpretation of the Bible.
Of course, Trump’s support of far-right, anti-LGBTQ Christian groups shouldn’t come as a surprise. He chose a virulently anti-LGBTQ politician as his vice president. He tapped a man for HUD secretary who called LGBTQ protections “extra rights” and a woman for education secretary who said she believes it is not the department of education’s job to look out for LGBTQ students who face discrimination. In the past few months, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to no longer count LGBTQ people in surveys that help identify health disparities LGBTQ people face, and the Justice Department filed a motion suggesting it may scrap a rule protecting trans and nonbinary people from discrimination in health care settings.
During his campaign, Trump tried to portray himself as sympathetic to the needs of LGBTQ Americans by commenting on the mass murder of LGBTQ people, who were mostly people of color, in an Orlando nightclub. Those same remarks were also very anti-immigration. Last year, Trump made comments about how trans people should be able to use the bathroom without interference from anyone. But his support of anti-LGBTQ groups and his administration’s failure to do anything to improve the lives of LGBTQ people prove that the Trump administration does not support LGBTQ rights, and will continue to erode them.
Despite the fear, the hatred and the division promoted before and after the largest attack on LGBTQ people in the nation’s history, the community still moves forward. Just as abusive law enforcement officials couldn’t quell the LGBTQ spirit at Stonewall, the Pulse massacre won’t stop people from loving one another and celebrating queer lives and history.
Here are a few videos put together by various media outlets commemorating the one year anniversary: