50 people were targeted and killed in a gay club – a space that is a precious, essential sanctuary for many
The mental imagery of a busy gay club on a Saturday, the dancing and drinking; the burgeoning flirtation or even the ostentatious dancefloor kissing and groping being suddenly put asunder into a frenzy of death, screaming and terror is one that has disturbed my mind all day as reports emerge about the largest mass shooting in American history and the largest mass killing since 9/11 in that country.
Visualising the flirtation and frivolity is important, because gay clubs like Pulse in Orlando, Florida are often the only places queer people have to do this. They are, often, the only places my gay friends can kiss or even touch their partners in public, they are often the only places I can dress in a way that takes in no accommodation of violence. That their killer sought out this place, a place created for brief expression of denied joy, to desecrate it with hate and blood, blood of my brothers and sisters, reminds us of how quickly this joy can be stolen and how terribly our safety can still be trespassed. The 50 queers slaughtered were killed because they were queer and seeing mainstream news outlets, uncomfortable with this reality, try to deny or elide this reality makes me despair, then angry.
This is a particularly violent manifestation of homophobia that exists on a terrorising spectrum from the anti-LGBT protests in American high schools, to the violent beatings of gay or bisexual men and trans people on public streets to the casual harassment of lesbians in public. One that codes how queer people are forced to conduct themselves every day to be seen as humans in the eyes of many. To those – straight or gay – who thought that queer liberation was already achieved this is a painful reminder it has not been.
“To those – straight or gay - who thought that queer liberation was already achieved this is a painful reminder it has not been”
Of course, in the face of what appears to be senseless and mass scale violence there are those desperate to assign reasoning and seek out villains. The suspected killer was, we’re told, a Muslim and soon right wing commentators were quick to highlight his alleged ‘radical leanings’.
True or not, this reduces the violence to an equally harmful narrative: Muslims are the enemy. Muslim equals homophobic. If we buy into this false narrative we deceive ourselves that there are no queer Muslims, equally as terrified of an indiscriminately homophobic killer as anyone else and who will also face racism as a result of this attack. One of the most powerful acts of solidarity in the wake of the attack came from CAIR National, an Islamic civil rights group, urging Muslims in the area to donate blood.
Anger at restrictions on Floridian gay men donating blood to their brothers has, of course, been one of the many manifestations of queer rage in response to this tragedy. So, too, has – rightly – been the feigned grief of American legislators who facilitate or financially prosper from the gun laws that made it possible or who’ve allowed the religious right that fund them to entrench a culture of casual and explicit homophobia that creates killers like Omar Mateen and many others across society.
This anger can and will be used in our ongoing fight for liberation; that can come later. For now, there is only sadness. This violent massacre happened, ironically, at the start of Pride season – often now derided by many (including myself) as little more than a drunken party like any other. The Latin night at Pulse was such a party too, though, and it became anything but apolitical. Now, around the world, queers look to Florida and mourn those 50 people and are reminded of our shared task of kindness to each other and defiant celebration of our community in the face of all those who would do any of us harm.