I have decided to dedicate this week’s blog post to the terror attack and hate crime that took place at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday morning. So far 49 people are reported to have been killed and a further 53 as injured. I’m sure I share your sentiments when I say my thoughts are with the deceased, the injured, and their friends, families and partners.
It was a deliberate act of hate and homophobia targeted against the LGBT community by an American-born citizen, Omar Mateen, who, at the time of writing, and according to the FBI, had links to Islamist jihadi groups.There has been a lot said, in response to the attack, about love, particularly in social media – all in good faith. But just like the rainbow that is a symbol that represents the gay community across the world, ‘love’ itself is made of a spectrum of colours. And one of these colours has nothing to do with the warm, fuzzy feeling one might feel snuggled up with one’s beloved. This particular colour is about standing up against injustice, bigoty and hatred. It is this aspect of love which is motivating me to write this article. And indeed this love which inspired me to write my first novel, Homo Jihad. Sadly, it is this aspect of love which many in the LGBT community are only too familiar with, having battled against homophobia and internalised homophobia whilst growing up in a world where a large section of straight humanity still views us as disgusting, perverted and unnatural. (The Velvet Rage is an excellent book, written by an American psychotherapist which looks at the issue of toxic shame which many gay men experience as young boys.)
The individual who perpetrated this act of violence was clearly motivated by his hatred of the LGBT community. In other words he was homophobic. It has also been widely reported in the media that his father noted his son’s disgust on seeing two men kissing in Florida. Today the father reportedly said it was up to God to punish gay people. Surely, this is what is truly disgusting and offensive. Not two men holding hands or kissing in the street. Not gay people having fun in a nightclub.
But the tentacles of this hatred for LGBT people go deep. Hundreds, if not thousands of years deep. There is, in my opinion, a relationship between the Abrahamic faiths which originate in the Middle East, and homophobia. St. Paul, Leviticus, certain hadiths from the Koran etc. The passages are well known and quite repugnant so I won’t reproduce them here. But it is religious bigotry and homophobia justified in the name of God or Allah or some ‘sacred’ text or other that needs to be challenged. Humanity needs to evolve! In his excellent article for The Spectator, Homophobia is now met with the same silence given anti-Semitism, Nick Cohen writes:
‘Religions, to use Dawkinesque language, are pre-scientific memes, and their DNA carries the hatred and blood-lusts of their time. Their authority has to be destroyed, so that they can no longer authorise murder.’
I sympathise with the above sentiment as a lot of what is written in these religious texts is defined by the culture, history and bigotry of their time. However, I still regard the essence of Christ’s teachings as a force of good in the world. And I believe Buddhism as a religion/philosophy is a time honoured tradition which has compassion and wisdom at its heart. I would not recommend throwing the baby out with the bath water! But religious extremism and homophobia need to be confronted whenever and wherever we encounter them. Which is why I feel Peter Tatchell’s response to the attack merits praise:
‘There is no room for the complacent and naïve belief the Islamist fanatics will confine their killings of gay people to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.’
Islamism as a political, fascistic ideology exists. The first step in combating this ideology is naming it. Not pretending it does not exist. Omar Mateen was a homophobe AND an Islamist who sympathised with Jihadi groups. However, some people seem to have a problem discerning between Islamism and Islam and in their ignorance and Islamophobia play directly into the hands of both Donald Trump and Isis. In the words of Peter Tatachell:
‘We must resist those who want to use this slaughter to demonise and scapegoat the Muslim community.’
We have all seen the violent, murderous face of homophobia in the devastation and loss of life caused in Orlando but I have also been shocked by the subtle and not so subtle display of homophobia in some of the media coverage of the attack. The Daily Wail didn’t even cover the worst attack on LGBT people since the Second World War on its front page. And I can only applaud The Guardian journalist, Owen Jones, for walking out of a Sky News interview. Julia Hartley Brewer, reporter for The Telegraph, and its presenter continued to downplay the fact that The Pulse nightclub in Orlanda was an LGBT venue until Jones, quite rightly, walked out. Do Jewish sites that are deliberate targets of terrorism get questioned on their basis of how Jewish they are? The fact that homophobia here in the West is still not recognised for what it is, is clearly part of the problem.
The events in Orlando and certain media coverage of the events today have triggered certain personal experiences of homophobia. I remember being sent to Coventry by everyone on campus after I had naively come out to my room mate in the first week at Exeter University. The Headteacher of a primary school in Poplar, East London demanding to know why I had a book entitled ‘Jenny lives with Martin and Eric’ in my classroom. (It was in fact to combat homophobic bullying) I remember her words quite clearly. ‘I’m a divorced woman. I don’t go shoving that down everyone’s throat.’ She took the book I had bought with my own money and never gave it back. The time I had comforted a boyfriend on a bench in the street. He was feeling ill and we were subjected to homophobic verbal abuse. In many ways I have been lucky. I haven’t been beaten up or kicked out of my home or sent to prison or executed for my sexual orientation. In many parts of the world this still happens. Doubtless, some bigots would think this article is shoving my gay rights agenda down their throat.
I leave you with a photo of a packed Old Compton Street in Soho, where a vigil to commemorate the victims of the Orlando attack took place this evening. You can see the Admiral Duncan pub, where seventeen years ago, three people lost their lives and dozens more were injured when a Neo-Nazi sympathiser detonated a nail bomb. We are ‘God’s gift of infinite variety in human love.’ We are the LGBT community.