Thinking about Orlando

By Jennifer Schweppe and Mark Walters

The attack on the LGBTQI community in Orlando this weekend is reverberating across the globe. With 50 people dead and 53 injured at the time of writing, the mass shooting represents an attack, not just on Orlando, on Florida, or on the United States, but an attack on the LGBTQI community across the world.

Much discussion will be had about how gun laws in the United States facilitated the attack. This is of course true, and this is a discussion which needs to take place and which must take place. Others are also problematising the language that is being used to describe the attack. To us the mass killing is nothing less than homophobic terrorism, the most extreme manifestation of hate crime imaginable. But today is not about entering into a polarising debate about whether the incident should or should not be classified as an act of “terrorism” and/or a “hate crime”.

Instead, today we are thinking about the impact that this attack is having on the LGBTQI community globally. Again and again, studies have shown us that when a member, or members, of a community are attacked, the impact of the crime goes far beyond the victims of the crime, their families and friends. Irene Zempi writes of the “ummah”, the transnational Muslim community, and how anti-Muslim attacks reverberate throughout that community across the globe. The LGBTQI community has a similar global, transnational space: Pride. Pride in identity, Pride in community, Pride in expression, Pride in culture. Pride has been attacked in Orlando, and we are feeling that attack across the world.

We are also thinking that the symbolic element of this crime must be understood: the attack happened in Pulse nightclub, apparently known for its community programmes. We need only think of the Stonewall Inn, regarded by many as the birthplace of the LGBTQI movement, to appreciate the symbolic significance of this space in our community. The gay nightclub, pub or bar has traditionally been a place of refuge, safety and sanctuary for people who cannot express their sexuality or gender identity in the wider community. Within the walls of these spaces, we have felt safe, if only for a short time, from oppression, violence, and the everyday discrimination which can be the experience of our members. We celebrate ourselves, we express ourselves, we rejoice in ourselves. Attacking us in this place of safety reverberates in a way that, perhaps, the perpetrator of this attack did not anticipate.

We are approaching Pride season across the world, where LGBTQI members and allies march in cities across the w­orld to celebrate our identity and culture. In waving our rainbow flags this year, our celebration will be poignant, but in no way muted. With every rainbow flag waved, the LGBTQI community will mourn the victims of the Orlando attack. We will remember and celebrate their lives. Not only that. In countries which criminalise homosexuality, that do not recognise rights of trans people to self-identify as their true gender, and where intersex genital mutilation is practiced daily, we will fight for recognition and legal protection.  In those countries in which some legal protections have been fought for and gained, we will remind ourselves and others that marriage equality, anti-discrimination laws and de-criminalisation are only small steps along the way to true equality.

Today, in our small community of hate studies, we will remind ourselves and others of the deeply damaging effects of hate crime. We will remind policy makers that hate crime is the criminal manifestation of societal prejudice towards communities. We will support victims and their families. We will listen to their stories with compassion and we will cry when we think of what they have experienced. Today we send out our love and compassion to everyone affected. We will remember Orlando.

Note:

If you are impacted by the events in Orlando, and would like to speak with someone, you can contact your local LGBTQI helpline. We have not listed these, as they would be too numerous, but if you cannot access your local helpline, or there is none in the country in which you live, please feel free to email jennifer.schweppe@ul.ie or mark.walters@sussex.ac.uk. You could also contact ILGA, the international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex association: www.ilga.org

 

This article is written by Jennifer Schweppe and Mark Walters in their personal capacities as academics and do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the INHS.

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