Orlando Shooting Was, First and Foremost, an Attack on Gay People

Update: This piece was originally published June 15, 2016, and is first in a two-part series of reflections following the mass shooting in the Orlando night club Pulse. The second part is available here.Mass shootings happen in America with an unnerving frequency, and yet when they do, something kind of beautiful tends to happen, too: They bring America together briefly.But not this time. Not all of us, anyway. And this gay person is tired of the racket.What happened Sunday in that club in Orlando was, first and foremost, an attack on gay people perpetrated by an American citizen whose 29 years in this country has taught him to hate homosexuals. We may well learn that his fealty to overseas extremists helped make a terrorist, but it was his homegrown homophobia that determined his choice of targets.It's profoundly insulting that so many who have denounced the shooting have failed to even address the homophobia that played such a big role in ending the lives of those 49 clubgoers and ripping the hearts out of their grief-stunned families.Sen. Ted Cruz was among the first and most cynical offenders. Soon after word of the attack spread Sunday, he seized on the tragedy to call out Democrats he says are too timid to name the threat from the Islamic State. "If you're a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder."We didn't know much on Sunday afternoon about what role foreign radicals played in pushing the shooter over the edge, and still don't. But we did know for certain that his own father said he was full of such loathing for homosexuality that the sight of two men kissing in Miami recently sent him into a rage. And we knew, of course, that he chose to conduct his terror at a busy gay nightclub, and not anywhere else.So if Cruz would like to see more courage from politicians, he can start with himself. Senator, stand in solidarity with gay people, hundreds of thousands of whom are your constituents, and not only with "the people of Orlando." Stop speaking at every opportunity about how gay activists are bad, even in your own words jihadis. And stop fighting so hard to undo the work of courts and legislatures that have recognized basic civil rights for gays.But courage or no courage, it's not enough to proclaim that it's evil to murder innocent people because they are gay. I'd like to think that's table-stakes in the 21st Century game of moral poker. Leadership requires doing more, saying more.Statements by other leaders were offensive for what they didn't say. Sen. John Cornyn spoke out three times, from his office, on Twitter and from the Senate floor. Never once did he mention the word gay or homophobia."The Orlando attack was not just a random act of violence. It was a calculated act of terror," he said. "We ought to be about finding a way to come together on a bipartisan basis to make sure this sort of travesty is not repeated over and over and over again."Who is he kidding? Yes, we have seen a string of attacks linked to overseas movements. We need to combat them. Want to call them radical Islamists? Done. But these shootings keep happening, with or without radicals who perfect Islam for their hateful purpose. And this time, they happened the way they did because this country has not been able to rid itself of the homophobia that lingers like poison in the well of our civic discourse.Our ginned-up culture wars, and lately the exaggerated fears about religious liberty, play their role in turning hearts to hate. Instead of a clear rebuttal of those forces of hate, we get pious bromides and political one-upmanship.It's a latter-day kind of tokenism -- and it's not enough.And then there is pastoral call to love our enemies, even gays. Pastor Robert Jeffress, the man who has assured Donald Trump the evangelical vote is his, responded to the murders in Orlando with condescending piety.He offered prayers for the families of those who died and then said the attack goes to show how much better Christianity is than Islam. "Islam teaches hate. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, even if their lifestyles are ones we don't approve."Mr. Jeffress, I'd like to thank you for your prayers. But your disapproval is out of bounds. The blood on those dancers' corpses and the tears of their mothers and lovers and friends renders obscene your disapproval.Terrorism is a tactic. It's time we understood this. It's a tactic used all over the world. In Madrid, in London and in New York City. But also in Charleston, in San Bernardino, in Oklahoma City, and in Boston and elsewhere.Sometimes the people who use terrorism are agents of our foreign foes, such as the 9/11 hijackers. Others are merely inspired by what they've learned about those inhuman monsters, like Syed Rizwan Farook in California. Others are "misguided revolutionaries," as the FBI called Timothy McVeigh, a white radical with twisted Christian views. Some are foes of modernity itself, like Ted Kaczynski.As for Dylann Roof, he was a terrorist, too. But that merely describes his tactic. His message was hate, and specifically hatred of black people. It was racism that drove him to that church.This soulless automaton in Orlando? Terrorist? Check. But whatever his relationship to the Islamic State turns out to have been, his actions reveal him clearly to also have been a murderous homophobe.In this country, he is hardly alone.President Barack Obama was right: This was a crime of terror and of hate. And it'd be a good start for bringing this country together if we'd all just admit it.  Continue reading...

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