On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub, with an AR-15 rifle, killed 49 people, and injured 53 more before being taken down by the Orlando police. As a lesbian, I’m horrified.
Since that day, the media has been covering this story non-stop. It’s spurred conversation and debate nationally and internationally, and affected more people than just those who were killed or injured in Florida. The conversations surrounding the topic seem limitless — except they’ve been very, very limited.
People are talking about gun control reform. They’re talking about terrorism. What they aren’t talking about is homophobia.
The media spun the story almost instantly into one of gun laws, whether the news anchors were arguing for or against the right to bear arms as stipulated in the Second Amendment and how easy or difficult that right should be to attain. Then, when the shooter was identified as a Muslim who had connections to ISIS, the story was spun again into one of radical Islamic terrorism and how our country doesn’t have a gun problem, but an immigration problem, and a Muslim problem.
The real issue this country has is a homophobia problem. While the issues of terrorism and gun reform are important to address, Mateen didn’t target a gay nightclub because he could buy a gun, or because he was a terrorist. Mateen allegedly saw two men kissing and decided that he wanted to kill gay people. That may have been his motive. This may have nothing to do with his connections to ISIS (and his connections to ISIS have nothing to do with the majority of Muslims who vocally disapprove of both terrorists groups and Mateen’s actions, and who have come together in the aftermath of this tragedy to do things like donate blood to the victims).
In my opinion, Mateen wasn’t homophobic because of his religion or because of his terrorist connections. I believe that he was homophobic because he was raised in the United States and saw his own hatred of gay people reflected back at him in the actions and beliefs of so many other people around him, including lawmakers who have consistently opposed things like gay marriage and the rights of transgender people to use public restrooms. People who oppose LGBT rights may not have taken a gun and murdered LGBT people the way Mateen did, but they’re the ones who inadvertently (or in some cases, advertently) reassured Mateen that it was okay to think of gay people as less deserving than straight people. They taught him that we are less deserving of equal treatment, and less deserving of life.
It’s also important for me to mention that the night this tragedy took place at Pulse was Latino night hosted by transgender WOC (Women of Color), and that most of the victims were not white. This event was devastating not only to LGBT minorities, but to racial minorities as well. Most people wouldn’t know that, though, because vigils held for the Orlando victims have been mainly hosted by straight white celebrities like Nick Jonas instead of the survivors and others in the LGBT community who were more directly affected by the events. The fact that it’s rare to hear details like this about the victims in news articles show how the media has taken the focus off of what actually happened, and placed it more and more on large scale political debates that are much less directly related to the crime and Mateen’s motives.
Yes, it’s important to address gun reform. Yes, it’s important to address how easy it is for people with known terrorist connections to be able to pull something like this off. But it’s also important to address that this was a deliberate hate crime against the LGBT community. It’s important to address that so much homophobia still exists in the U.S.A. and that even the smallest actions of using slurs or calling gay people sinners contribute to the overall mindset of the nation, and indirectly to massacres just like this. Mateen didn’t do this alone. He had a whole society backing him up.