Orlando vigils stand against homophobia and Islamophobia

June 17, 2016
People hold candles during a vigil for the victims of the massacre in Orlando, in Newtown on June 13. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

LGBTI communities everywhere are reeling from the loss of the 49 people gunned down in the Orlando nightclub Pulse. In addition, 53 were injured.

Some of them no doubt are deeply missed by their families. Even worse, as is true in many LGBTI communities, some of them would have lost their family ties years ago. The other patrons at the Pulse nightclub may have been the only family they had.

The grief hangs heavy in the air. Too heavy for a community already besieged by violence and harassment, parental rejection, suicide, homelessness, marriage inequality and the recent attack on the Safe Schools Coalition.

Whenever a queer person dies from injustice, other queer people feel the pain. It feels like it could have been you. In this case, like it could have happened at your own local queer nightclub, while you were out with friends having a good time.

It does not help that before we even had half a chance to grieve, before we had any chance to process what had happened, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was talking about banning Muslim migration to the US and Tasmanian Family First Senate hopeful Peter Madden was tweeting: "Though Orlando is abhorrent, it doesn't change the real & present dangers of the gay marriage agenda to Aus [sic] children".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also beat the anti-Muslim drum. The day after the massacre he announced his government was reviewing the visa of British Islamic scholar Farrokh Sekaleshfar, a senior Shi'ite Muslim scholar, who was in Sydney to give a series of lectures on the topic of spirituality. This was because he has "zero tolerance for people to come to Australia who preach hatred". Sekaleshfar, who had not preached hatred, left before he could be deported.

The face of the murderer himself, supposedly an “Islamic terrorist”, was insensitively plastered all over the front pages of several newspapers. Hillary Clinton joined in with the instant tidal wave of Islamophobia and the war drive.

The LGBTI community is a political football to these people. But we are an inconvenient political football. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not even mention that this was a hate crime against our community. He cannot bring himself to mention our community. After all, he was the one who presided over the attack on the Safe Schools Coalition. He was the one who failed to enact marriage equality. He was the one who took selfies at Mardi Gras and then threw us under the bus. It is more useful for him to frame this simply as Islamic terrorism.

Indeed, ISIS should be condemned. Not because they orchestrated this massacre: that is not clear. They should be condemned for using it like Trump and Turnbull have used it: as a political football.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the massacre, but this is probably just part of their ongoing strategy. They claim responsibility for things they have not done to look bigger and more organised on a global scale than they really are. This helps them to further grow as a homophobic, homicidal force and to commit more atrocities in the Middle East.

It is clear that further bombings of the Middle East can only strengthen ISIS. Recent history demonstrates this decisively. ISIS originated in the first place from the deep social turmoil brought about by the West's wars.

The corporate press was quick to paint Omar Mateen as an ISIS radical, but over the past few days a more complicated picture has started to emerge. As well as being a cold-blooded murderer, a wife-beater, someone trained in violence as a security guard, and someone who pledged allegiance to ISIS, it seems Mateen may have also been a queer Muslim.

There is no simple narrative here. Not for Turnbull, nor for Trump, and not for the LGBTI community either. For the LGBTI community it would be easier if we could simply see Mateen as a monster. But that narrative has been disrupted by revelations that he may have been confused about his own sexuality. He was seen at Pulse and he used a gay dating app to chat with at least one other guy. Try to wrap your head around that one, queer community.

Life is hard for queer Muslims. Very hard. Imagine being caught between Islamophobia and homophobia. Imagine feeling like your life is caught in the middle of a vice, and there is no place for you anywhere in society. The really tragic thing is that his actions will tighten the vice around the lives of queer Muslims all over the world.

Let us be clear. The LGBTI community did not call for air strikes on the Middle East. We did not call for a ban on Muslim migration. We never called for the long-suffering people of Iraq and Syria to pay the price for our pain. That was Donald Trump. We are calling for safe schools; for marriage equality; for an end to prejudice and hatred.

We need our government to back off and allow us some time to grieve. We need to come together in the thousands, in mass vigils all over the world, to grieve as a community. Then, when we are ready for politics, we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and take a strong political stand. We cannot fall for the trap of division and hatred that Trump, Clinton and Turnbull have set for us. We need to say no to racism, Islamophobia and war.

We need to continue the fight for our own liberation. We need to call on our governments to address the very serious social problems that exist all around the world, that led to the tragedy in Orlando. Mateen probably did not just learn his hatred, his self-hatred, from Islamic sources. He grew up in the US so he probably also learned it from countless Christian and secular sources. All of these sources need to be addressed.

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