As we walked out of the clubs in DC celebrating Pride this Saturday night, came news of the horrific carnage in Orlando. The facts emerged slowly, 50 dead, 53 injured and our celebration of who we were slowly turned into our collective grief and vulnerability. We didn't even know who the dead were or their names, yet all of us felt we knew all those who were targeted.
To the LGBTI community that is celebrating Pride this month in America, this attack brings a deep sense of sadness. I am attending Pride after a long time, meeting old friends and comrades in a country I once had called home. If this were just an act of terror, the target could have been anyone but we all knew this is not just that.
This hate for the "other", in this case the LGBTI community, is something that is internalized in our societies and cultures.
It's important not to reduce this conversation to the banalities of religion, gun control and terror. These are, of course, important issues and deeply linked to this crime. The religious right hates the LGBTI folks and their allies and vehemently preaches violence. America's gun control is pathetic and numerous tragedies have proved that. However, it's crucial to recognize this as a hate crime -- one that shakes humanity but most deeply affects us, the LGBTI community.
This hate for the "other", in this case the LGBTI community, is something that is internalized in our societies and cultures. Similar attacks have taken place elsewhere. Just in April, two gay men in Bangladesh were hacked to death not in a club but in a home, in broad daylight. In many countries in Africa and in the Middle East, love or sexual desire between two men continues to be rewarded with death. They are publicly humiliated and abused. Now more than ever, there seems to be an emergence of a culture of hate and violence for the LGBTI community. Yet the leadership of all these countries sit in the UN with others to discuss equality. Whose equality? Whose freedom? Whose dignity? But then, what can we expect from the UN -- a body where a human rights panel was headed by Saudi Arabia, a deeply misogynistic, homophobic country?
It's important not to sanitize this attack as an act of terror. It's a hate crime against the LGBTI community.
In American media, as in international media, there initially wasn't clear acknowledgement that Pulse, the nightclub where the attack took place, was a gay club and that those that died were mostly or probably all from the LGBT community. It was easily termed as a senseless act of terror, not a hate crime.
It's important not to sanitize this attack as an act of terror. It's a hate crime against the LGBTI community. The mainstream media has focussed primarily on the religion of the attacker and his strong leanings towards ISIS. Unfortunately, the problem in countries like America or Bangladesh and many others is much more widespread. It's the collective culture of hate towards the "other" that we have internalized.
This man, Omar Mateen, chose to attack and kill gay people in a gay club. He did not target a church, a mosque or a synagogue. He chose us -- an easily targeted and often vulnerable minority -- to show us his hate. His father says he was offended at two men kissing in front of his son. The men who attacked and killed the gay men in Bangladesh were no different. Each year, thousands of attacks take place on the LGBTI community across the world. Why? Our cultures successfully teach people to hate and perpetuate violence. We are taught systematically that we have the right to be offended and also to show it with violence. This doesn't come from a foreign source but from within our homes, our schools and our political narratives, our media and our culture.
Forget the religion of this attacker, forget his name, his ethnicity but remember this -- he was an American who hated gay people enough to kill them.
Do yourself a favour. Forget the religion of this attacker, forget his name, his ethnicity but remember this -- he was an American who hated gay people enough to kill them. Just like not too long ago, there were Bangladeshis who killed gay men. Who taught them to be like this? Their friends and community, the mainstream media, the bloodthirsty politicians, and the religious right. The attacker is just a manifestation of our collective hatred for the "other".
In times when the religious and political right are in their thirst for power ready to create more hate, we have recognize that we need to fight harder than ever before. We need to grieve for those we have lost but also work to create a new culture of inclusiveness. We need to mourn this crime but create a new dialogue of respect for those who are "other". As we walk Pride marches and hold hands in solidarity to make sense of this senseless tragedy, we need to create a new vocabulary that addresses this violence. We cannot let this stop us -- we need to reclaim our sense of self and our Pride.
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