On the 12th June, 2016, a mass shooting took place inside gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, United States. 53 people were wounded, and 49 were murdered (50, including the gunman) in the biggest mass shooting to be carried out by a single gunman in US history to date.
This column is a personal account on events I think are ‘need to know’ and so, before continuing with the article, I wish to outline that this isn’t going to be a recounting of facts on gun laws in the U.S or lists of mass-shootings, but rather my understanding of and reaction to the devastating effects of that night.
I was on holiday with my friends when the news broke. We’d spent a day blissfully lounging by the pool, and, having eaten a little too much, drank far too much, and allowing our English pallor time to adopt to astonishing heat, (and also, being products of the 21st century) we retired to our kitchen, switched on the Wi-Fi and scrolled through our various personal social media platforms. Twitter was my app of choice, and my feed was filled with the breaking news reports of those who had lost their life in the early hours of Sunday morning. My friends reacted with the usual amount of distress, grief, and, as is common with such callous acts of terror, the conversation turned to the unpredictability of such events, and the gratefulness we felt due to having never been in such a situation; a situation we labeled as ‘wrong place, wrong time’.
Forgive us for thinking that way, but the media coverage up until that point had left us with little alternative; this was a radicalised terrorist who had taken advantage of the ridiculously lax US gun laws and had open-fired into a crowd of unsuspecting civilians. The term ‘terror attack’ was bandied about with such ease that any other contributing factors were overshadowed and, ultimately, ignored.
With a little more digging, it is obvious that this was, above everything else, a homophobic attack. (I do not use the word ‘homophobic’ lightly, because the idea that love between two individuals can induce feelings of ‘overwhelming and debilitating fear’ in someone is, frankly, incomprehensible.) This attack wasn’t a matter of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ or only premeditated to the extent that the attacker understood there would be a large gathering of unsuspecting people; it was an attack on gay people, exclusively. This wasn’t anything that my friends or I could relate to in any way, being heterosexual and having never experienced prejudice due to our choice of sexual partners.
Owen Jones walked out of an interview with Sky News this week over precisely this matter; the media are insistent on labeling this a terrorist attack – equating it to the attack on the Bataclan in Paris – which it may be, but fail to acknowledge with any amount of credence that Omar Mateen, the perpetrator, killed his victims due to, specifically, their sexual orientation. The Sky news presenter, Mark Longhurst, attempted to steer Jones away from the topic of this being a homophobic attack – ‘I’m talking about the coverage in the newspapers. That’s what we’re here for.” Jones pointed out, in response to the lack of coverage on how this relates to the LGBT community exclusively, ‘This was a deliberate attack on LGBT people in an LGBT venue. It was a homophobic terrorist attack. Do you not understand that?… It’s not an abstract, he just picked a random club out of nowhere. He picked a club because it was full of people that he regarded as deviants.”
Mass-shootings, especially in the US, are happening with an alarming frequency, and every time the easiest route is to blame extremism and appeal to the government to repeal the Second Amendment Act (which, realistically, is never going to happen. If the US wasn’t prepared to ban guns after the fatal shooting of 20 children in the Sandy Hook massacre back in 2012, then they never will be.) But the fear to discuss the cause of the loss of 49 lives on Sunday morning is allowing negativity and hatred to grow without challenge. The following people died because they were gay, and because there continues to be ignorance surrounding coverage of homophobic hate crimes committed.
May they all rest in peace.