In the midst of pitched battles over whether some Americans can discriminate against LGBT Americans based on religion, we are viscerally reminded that terror and violence do not discriminate.
My phone started buzzing almost as soon as the lights went down. I was in Baltimore with my family to watch Cirque du Soleil’s “Toruk” when the alerts started coming in about another mass shooting, this time at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We’d just found our seats, after getting through security, where my electronics bag was searched for weapons.
Since the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police harassment and violence early on the morning of June 28, 1969, June has been the month that the LGBT community celebrates Pride. Our communities are at their most visible, as Pride is at least in part about survival as an act of defiance, and walking in the light of day without fear. Last year, Pride was a celebration, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. This year Pride takes on special significance, as our communities stand up against “religious freedom” laws that seek to codify discrimination against LGBT Americans, on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
This isn’t the first time our community has been targeted by terrorist violence.
In 1996, anti-gay and anti-government right-wing extremist Eric Rudolph bombed the Otherside Lounge, a gay bar, injuring five people during that Atlanta Olympics. During the five years Rudolph spent hiding in rural North Carolina, despite millions of dollars and the efforts of FBI investigators to get locals to cooperate with their search, the same locals wrote country songs about him and sold t-shirts emblazoned with, “Run, Rudolph, Run!”
On New Years Eve in 2013, Musab Masmari set fire to a Seattle gay nightclub, Masmari later confided to a friend that he “‘burned a gay club’ and that he did it ‘because what these people are doing is wrong.’” Another friend reported that Masmari had a “general hostility towards homosexuality.”
Now, in the midst of pitched battles over whether some Americans can discriminate against LGBT Americans based on religion, we’ve been viscerally reminded that terror and violence make no distinctions between us. Unlike us, these twin horrors do not discriminate. Born of the same hatred that causes one person to believe we should be denied a donut or a slice of pizza because of who we are, and another to believe we should be denied life for the same reason, they simply annihilate.
As the second act began, I wondered what we would tell our children about this latest attack, which they would inevitably learn of. Upon hearing that the LGBT community was targeted, would they worry about my safety and my husband’s? Would they worry about their own safety? Can we assure them that their world is a safe place.
A couple of months from now, before the summer ends, we will have forgotten about Orlando. We will probably have gone through and forgotten about a few more shootings since then. We will no more heed the voice of Christine Leinonen, whose son Christopher has been confirmed among the dead in the aftermath of the shooting, than we did the grieving parents of the elementary school students killed at Sandy Hook.
Mateen walked into Pulse carrying an AR–15 style rifle — the “gun of choice” for America’s mass shooters, of which there are some 9 million in circulation as of 2014 — which he bought legally, despite previous flags by the FBI. It’s the same gun that brought us the carnage in San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, and Aurora. Once illegal under the federal assault weapons ban, they are made to kill quickly and efficiently; capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition per minute, with high accuracy. They rose in popularity when the ban expired in 2004. Of the eight high-profile mass shootings since July of last year, assault rifles were used in seven.
The dangers the LGBT community faces are really the dangers all Americans still face. How many fewer people would have died if Mateen had walked into Pulse armed with less firepower, or only with knives? We may never be able to entirely eradicate hate, but we can take away people’s ability to act on it so quickly and on such an appalling scale. But we don’t have the political will, not even after this latest massacre.
Cirque du Soleil’s “Toruk” is based on James Cameron’s movie, Avatar. At the end of “Toruk,” five disparate tribes of the same race — the blue-skinned Na’vi — come together to stop the extinction of their species. As we made out way home, I thought of Orlando, and wondered if the human race yet has the capacity to do the same.