The Orlando Shooting: A Year of Hurt and Denial

It’s been a year since the tragic shootings in Orlando took place, it feels like it has been much longer though. So many acts of terror have been endured since Pulse was attacked that logic dictates a decade must have passed. There has been an incomprehensible level of violence on an a very regular schedule. However this post is not about the senseless terror that is plaguing communities accross globe, and the inevitable pain that follows, but specifically about the Orlando shootings carried out by Omar Marteen. The world grieved for the victims of the Orlando, however any member of the LGBT community will tell you the effects of the Orlando attack, and any other act of homophobia, reaches far beyond grief.

Following the attack there was a newspaper review broadcast on Sky News that went viral, the discussion was attended by Mark Longhurst, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Owen Jones. During the course of the newspaper review Mr Jones, a gay man, became increasingly angered by the comments being made by the rest of the panel. His jaw became clenched and his hands were balled tight. Mr Jones made several attempts to communicate to Mr Longhurst and Ms Hartley-Brewer that although this was a terrorist atrocity it was also a hate crime, and it needed to be treated as one. He called for media outlets to acknowledge that the attack was not just picked from a hat of western ‘sins’, but was a result of the homophobia that had been harboured by Omar Marteen. However instead of recognising that Mr Jones’ frustration was a result of the deeply hurtful effect homophobia has on LGBT people, Mr Longhurst and Ms Hartley-Brewer instead mistook Mr Jones’ raw emotion for hysteria.

The quote from the debate that has remained with me was Mr Jones stating in no uncertain terms that Mr Longhurst could not understand the pain felt by the LGBT community because ‘you’re not gay!’ Mr Longhurt’s rebuttal to the claim was that he was deeply saddened by the loss of life as he would be at the loss of any human life. I don’t doubt this. I’m sure that he discussed his sadness with his family and they agreed that it was a truly horrific massacre. However his sadness would eventually pass, and he will continue with his life uninterrupted. This is not the case if you are an LGBT person, the effects of a homophobic attack like this are far more tangible. It changes the way we talk, the way we walk, the way we hold ourselves and most importantly the manner in which we interact with our partners. It is not just sadness that we feel, it’s fear as well, an emotion that is much more permanent.

As a 23-year-old gay male I’ve never been with a partner in public where the experience of their company and the normality of a relationship hasn’t been undermined by fear. When we’re holding hands my palms will sweat, when we eat in restaurants there’s a safe distance between us and when we kiss my eyes are wide open, scanning the area for potential mobs. I was recently out for drinks with some friends and a guy I was dating, at some point in the night we were joined by two lads of a similar age to us. They asked how long me and my date had known each other, mistaking us for friends. This wasn’t a surprise as I purposely sat us on the opposite sides of the table. I responded by telling them that we were in fact dating, then made a joke that we were sat so far apart to avoid trouble from them. One of the lads bluntly responded with the question ‘Who do you think we are?’ It was a completely legitimate response. They were vegan students who didn’t like to use the word ‘munter’ because of it’s misogynistic connotations. A simple assessment of the facts should’ve alerted me that they were unlikely queer bashers.

After this chance meeting I felt fairly silly. What had possessed me to think that these shaggy millennials in head to toe vintage clothing were a threat. I was so angry at myself for letting my irrational insecurities taint a pleasant conversation. But when I think about the Orlando shooting and my personal confrontations with homophobia I realise that I’m not being irrational, I’m learning from expeirience. My efforts to protect myself with poor jokes is not a result of my insecurities, it’s a primal response to limit the chance of physical and emotional harm. A desperate hope that if I can summon a chuckle from a stranger they might be distracted from the repulsion they feel towards my life of sodomy.

During the newspaper review there were many attempts to deflect from the issue of homophobia, instead the panelists chalked the attack up to random terrorism and mental health issues. I do think that Omar Marteen must have mental health issues to carry out the attack, I’d be very unsettled if a compulsion to kill innocent people and a disregard for human life weren’t classed as symptoms of mental illness. But the cause of this was attack was homophobia, the homophobia that is present in the lives of everyone in the LGBT community. Homophobia is still much more common than we like to believe it is, and it’s learned, from our families, friends, political representatives, religious leaders, TV’s and magazines. This often non-violent homophobia is extremely damaging to the emotional wellbeing of LGBT people, and when it interacts with catalysts such as radicalisation and mental illness it can become atomic. To be able to tackle homophobia it’s essential that the LGBT people who are the victims of it are heard. Mr Jones eventually walked out of the newspaper review and he was right to do so. As a person who despises wasting time I would also be inclined to leave as well, what’s the point of talking if nobodies listening.

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