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After Orlando: Let’s keep the focus on anti-LGBT violence

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | June 16, 2016

Like many Americans, I was energized and grateful for the senators who spent over half a day yesterday speaking from the heart about their dismay at our national inability to enact even the simplest reforms on gun ownership. Motivated by the deaths of 49 people, and the wounding of dozens more, in Orlando this weekend, they sought and gained a hearing, however symbolic it might be, for measures that might have impeded the gunman in this case from buying the weapons he used.

faces of 49 killed in Orlando

(@r0ck333 via Instagram)

As Democratic senators used the occasion to dramatize their fight for gun control, the presumptive Republican nominee for president exploited the killing to advance one of his more repugnant themes: sowing fear of followers of Islam, whether citizens of the US or not.

Media attention followed the identification of the shooter as a United States-born Muslim with a history of claiming ties to various violent groups, but who the FBI found to lack any such ties, his last-minute declarations of affiliation notwithstanding.

What seems to be drifting out of sight too easily is the fact that the target of this murderous rampage was a gay club. Not all the victims were LGBT community members. But Pulse was a place whose identity was based on openly welcoming people who increasingly are the target of violence in this country.

This specificity should not be overwritten by the politics of a presidential campaign, or even the worthy politics of attempting to diminish the chances of a similar massacre in the future.

Being gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, transgender, or intersex in the U.S. makes people a member of the group that is the target of the largest number of hate crimes — crimes based on who you are — recorded by the FBI today.

The risk of violence is worse for LGBT people of color. The New York Times reported that 90 percent of the victims in the Orlando shooting were Latinos; “Mexican, Colombian and Dominican, community leaders said. Of those, 23 were Puerto Rican.” National tracking of fatal hate crimes against LBGT people from 2012-2015 shows that 66 percent of the victims were black or Latino.

In that regard, the Orlando shooter was right in line with this particularly U.S. pattern of violence. Whatever his ideological or personal demons, the target he chose is one that is chosen by everyday Americans frighteningly often.

The most disquieting thing about the increase in hate crimes targeting the LGBT community is that it accompanied one of the most important gains for civil rights for the community, the Supreme Court’s affirmation of marriage equality.

memorial in NYC

After a vigil at the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, NYC, the names of 49 killed in Orlando mark the sidewalk. (Jere Keys via Wikimedia Commons)

Since that momentous decision, the country has seen a gathering storm of violence develop in parallel with legislative actions that imperil the lives of LGBT people every day. Just one day after the Orlando massacre, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated a measure that would have protected these Americans from some discrimination.

The danger is real. Anti-gay laws are now actively being promoted in a majority of states. These laws generally focus on hyped up fears of sharing a rest room with people whose chromosomes might not match yours, and exploit the idea of religious freedom to make it possible for businesses to refuse service to people on the basis of who they are, recalling the nation’s shameful legacy of racist legislation.

Yet bathroom and so-called religious freedom laws are not the only challenges LGBT people legally face in our country.

In a majority of states, you can lose your job because of who you love. In most of this country, there is no law that protects students who are LGBT from being treated differently based on their identity. In most states, a landlord does not have to give LGBT people the same consideration as potential tenants as would be given to straight people.

So as I watch religious extremists rejoice in the deaths in Orlando based on their perverted interpretations of the Bible; and listen dumbfounded as a U.S. congressman claims Pulse was not a gay nightclub because some of the victims were straight; and scan through statements from one politician after another avoiding acknowledging who was targeted in this hate crime; I want nothing to do with a national debate about terrorism. I even wish that gun control had not so conveniently surfaced to over-write the names of the victims here.

They were gay and lesbian, straight and queer, white and Latino, young and old. They came together at a place they surely all knew was a gay club. In that, they demonstrate the potential for living together without rejecting each other due to gender or sexuality.

Their deaths resulted from the intolerance and hatred of one person. The target he chose was a symbol of openness for a community still disadvantaged by lack of legal protection in a country where lawmakers still can make campaign fodder out of legislation harming them.

I am waiting for the filibuster for legislation to protect their rights. I am waiting for the massive coverage of hate crimes against them.

I am waiting.