Sometimes events can change everything. Other times, they serve to crystalise realities, (re)presenting the truths of our times. Whether the tragic events of Orlando will have a lasting effect remains to be seen. Right now, they serve as an awful lens through which we find ourselves reappraising our society.
For many, the events will have resulted in a desire to hug a loved one just that little bit closer, that little bit longer in the hours that followed. For many, far too many, fifty at present, those loved ones are gone. Lost in a hail of bullets delivered by a deeply disturbed individual with apparently a flawed sense of meaning, they can neither comfort nor be comforted again. Desperate texts that have come to light suggest some of those at Pulse club drew their last breaths cowering in toilets as a murderous gunman unleashed his hate on the gay club patrons.
News footage was rapidly broadcast of mothers, of families and friends desperately seeking their children and loved ones among those cut down. Their tears and raw pain all to visible, all too real, and deeply affecting.
Inevitably those that remain, those that survive, mourn and also seek to find meaning and hope in this devastating carnage. Many more commentators and politicians will seek to project their own agendas on these events. I cannot claim to be above such political opportunism. Baffled by America’s continued gun obcession, this is for me further evience that America needs to revisit its laws on gun ownership. Yet I also have to recongise that some reports indicate that had an off-duty cop not been armed, things might have been worse. Both sides of the gun debate will find arguments in these awful deaths.
Yet people died and others remain seriously injured. It was the ‘worst’ (judged by deaths) shooting in American history. An urgent appeal for blood was issued following the massacre, but Federal rules on blood donation meant meant gay men were prevented from donating. Similar rules exist in the UK and on both sides of the Atlantic, campaigns exist to overturn these laws and enable men who have sex with men to donate blood in a safe and mangaged way. In our moment of sadness, we found ourselves reminded of discrimination enshrined in law.
The responses in the hours that followed have for me highlighted a community response. Whether it’s Owen Jones walking out of a Sky interview, activists seeking to provide energy and solace, President Obama seeking to provide comfort and leadership or those defiant Pride marchers who carry in in LA and across America, people are defining themselves as ‘we’ not ‘I’. The we is the LGBTQ community. As a time when people seemingly say with growing ease that they are not defined by their sexuality, suddenly we find that we are.
This gunman targeted this Orlando club because it was a gay club. He wanted, in his murderous spree of hate, to kill gay people. He wanted us dead. Like those hate-filled people in far away lands who push us to our deaths from tall buildings, this disturbed individual wished us gone from this earth. We remain, saddened, grieving and in pain, but we stand defiant and unbowed in the face of hate and terror.
Hate does always come in the form of bullets. Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, gave a powerful statement following the shooting. He rightly observed that “He wasn’t just hearing these messages from a faraway terrorist organization. He was hearing it from politicians and from radical anti-LGBT extremists right here in our own country. Every time we see legislation that puts a target on the back of LGBT people. Every time we hear a preacher that spews hate from the pulpit. Every time a county clerk says that acknowledging our relationships violates her ‘religious beliefs’”
In alluding to Kim Davis and challenging the various other attacks on LGBTQ freedom, Griffin highlights the legal battles that have recently been fought and which continue to be undertaken in the United States. They highlight the backlash and push-back to legal reform that still needs to be confronted and dealt with. Moreover, they highlight the continued need for ‘we’. We might think that we’re more than a label, and we are, but we should not be afraid of also seizing that label and use it as a rallying cry. The terrorists and hate-preachers need to understand that you may cause us deep pain, injure or even murder us, but you shall not win. This is a community that has been battling hate throughout our history and we’ve not been beaten yet. You’ve got no chance.