Written by Florence Oppen, 6/16/16
On June 12th, 2016, 49 people were murdered in the Pulse gay club in Orlando (Florida), 53 were wounded and dozens of others were traumatized for the rest of their lives. This was clearly a hate crime against the LGBTQI and Latin@ community, despite the efforts of Rick Scott, Republican Governor of Florida, and the Republican candidate for the White House, Donald Trump, to disregard and negate the racist, homophobic and transphobic nature of the terrorist attack.
From Workers Voice/La Voz de l@s Trabajadores, we want to express our condolences to the families of those killed. We share the pain and the anger on this horrible and despicable hate crime, and the frustration to see how the major corporate candidates are already using this attack to foster their racist agendas in the electoral campaign.
Both Trump and Clinton are putting forward an islamophobic rhetoric which 1) disregards the true nature and the true institutional causes of such a violent attack, and 2) tries to use one act of horror (homophobic and transphobic murders) to justify another one (islamophobia, through the terrorizing, invasion and torture of the Islamic population in the U.S. and around the world).
As revolutionary socialists, we are and will continue to unite all of our forces with other leftists, activists and community organizers to undo their lies and build a real movement of the 99%, of the oppressed and exploited, in order to fight back against homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia and all forms of oppression. And we will do so by targeting the true roots of the problem: the sick, violent, reactionary American society we live in, and the structure and institutions of power which enable, enforce and perpetuate daily reactionary discourses and acts of repression against the LGBTQI, Blacks, Latin@s and Muslim communities.
Trump and Clinton Jump the Gun of Islamophobia for Electoral Purposes
For both presidential candidates, the fact that Omar Matteen walked into Pulse club with an AR-15 assault rifle and mentioned ISIS to the police is enough to consider him a soldier of ISIS, and to frame his attack in the Bush-created narrative of an ongoing war of civilizations between the “West” and “Radical Islam”. Trump immediately contextualized this tragedy arguing: “We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer. Many of the principles of radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions… We need to tell the truth about how radical Islam is coming to our shores. And it´s coming!”
In fact, Trump, like most Republicans, never addressed the existing discrimination against the LGBT community and the homophobic nature of the attack. He refuses to extend his solidarity with a community he despises. Instead, he used the attack- in a terrible, reactionary and electoralist move- to propose a new immigration policy that would screen all applicants to enter the U.S. territory and ban Muslims from it. Let’s not forget he has already proposed to have American Muslims be issued a special ID to be properly identified by the public!
Unfortunately, Clinton did not follow a different line. While she did acknowledge the homophobic nature of the attack, she chose to jump into the ready made narrative of the “fight against ISIS” and tail Trump’s rising islamophobia for electoral purposes. Even Obama has argued that there is no substantial proof of a real connection between Mateen and ISIS, beyond the opportunistic claim of ISIS involved in the attack and his equally opportunistic invocation of ISIS, Clinton has jumped the gun and is also accusing “radical Islam”: “From my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say. It matters that we got Bin Laden, not what name we called him… But if he is somehow suggesting I don’t call this for what it is, he hasn’t been listening. I have clearly said we face terrorist enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering people. We have to stop them and we will. We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism, and we will… And to me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing.”
Little can be said beyond reminding both candidates and parties that this electoral and racist instrumentalization of the massacre of queer lives is in fact an INSULT to the LGBTQI community. And the fact that our mourning and anger is constantly reminded by the need to come out publicly in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters, as many LGBTQI Black and Latin@s, organizations, persons and activists, as well as union activists already have. Our shared pain cannot be use to justify more hate!
Behind Omar Mateen: Radical Islam or Homegrown Right Wing Terrorism?
The facts of the tragedy and critical thinking, however, point at a different direction to contextualize it. First of all, homophobia in the US is not an artificial or “foreign” invention, it has been cultivated in the native ground for a while now. Second, even if many institutions which sustain major religion (Christian and Islamic) do in fact discriminate against the LGBTQI community (as many lay institutions do too), one cannot blame a whole religious community for the insane and despicable acts committed by a very small minority. This is not about religion, it is not about Islam or even “radical Islam”, it is about the hatred to the LGBTQI community tolerated by many in our society.
Yet, the specific facts of the Orlando shooting point at the fact that religion may have not been more than a cover to the deep causes and roots of racist and homophobic violence in the US. Mateem was not only a Muslim of Afghani origin, he was also a 29 year-old U.S. born citizen, a private security employee of a DHS contractor (G4S) with gun and military training, a domestic abuser who used to beat his wife, a steroid abuser, and an NYPD fan as revealed by his several selfies with different NYPD apparel (NYPD being the most militarised police force in the country). G4S is according to the Washington Post “one of the world’s largest security firms, with a workforce rivaling the population of Washington, D.C., that has worked with U.S. agents on border patrol,” involved in the deportation of illegal immigrants, among others. It is the world’s largest security company by revenue.
More importantly, Mateen was reportedly also a semi-regular of the Pulse gay club himself for the past 3 years. Some newspapers have reported that there are several witnesses who recognize him as he attended the bar several times and usually got really drunk and sometimes violent. Wouldn’t it be more logical to conclude that what “radicalized” and triggered Mateen violent hate has more to do with the militarization of American society, the violence of police and military subcontractors against the most vulnerable oppressed sectors (black, immigrants, LGBT), and the generalized racism and homophobia in this country? Why do Trump and Clinton look abroad, constructing in a prefabricated and racialized “other” (“Radical Islam”) to explain something that has all of its roots in America’s own territory? The bi-partisan system, the 1% have fueled and tolerated so many layers of oppression and allowed such a generalized impoverishment of the population for the past decades, that maybe the best explanation for this horror is that the ruling class has created the best conditions for such a dangerous cocktail to explode. So let’s stop looking abroad, blaming religion and Muslims and let´s start facing the real problems here which affect our lives!
Homophobia and Transphobia in the United States
Despite what some white middle-class liberals might believe, the United States continues to be a deeply homophobic and transphobic country. This is based on facts, and the Democratic Party has no easy way out this shared responsibility. It was indeed Bill Clinton who in order to pass the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military (which never openly combatted homophobia) signed the Defense of Marriage Act which inscribed in the Federal law the discrimination against same-sex couples.
There is no question that the US Supreme Court lifted the DOMA ban to legalize the existing same-sex marriages in 2013 was an historic step forward towards acceptance and full rights to gay and lesbian relationships. But we cannot expect that this minimal gesture of equality would undo and change decades of oppression. Nor the repeal of DOMA can be used to accept the still ongoing laws and policies that continue to oppress and discriminate against the LGBT community in the US.
The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has prohibited gay men since the 1980s from donating blood, using the HIV epidemic to stigmatize the gay community based upon “scientific” basis. In December 2015, after decades of pressure from the queer activists community to lift the ban, the policy changed but not as we all expected: gay and bisexual men can donate blood only if they have not had any homosexual sexual encounter in the past 12 months. Kelsey Louie, from Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a leader in HIV/Aids providing care, argued that this policy was still outrageous and discriminatory: “In practice, the new policy is still a continuation of the lifetime ban and ignores the modern science of HIV-testing technology while perpetuating the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous… Blood donation policies should be based on science, not stigma.”
The cruel irony of the Orlando shooting is that when Orlando hospitals and the Blood Center were in crisis mode, receiving victims from an homophobic attacks, and making public calls for an urgent blood drive, legally gay donors were prevented from giving their own blood to help their brothers and sisters!
Around 20% of hate crimes in the US have targeted the LGBTQI community. Attacks on the transgender community are on the rise by 13% since last year. Yet this should not be surprising when the majority of the US institutions continue to disregard LGBTQI oppression and take a clear stance against it. Only 22 states prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation because of sexual orientation (20 of them also cover discrimination for gender identity). There are 28 states with no legal protection So in the current situation, 52% of LGBT population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. One of the results of that is that 40% of the homeless youth are LGBT.
In fact, the situation is worse than a lack of institutional protection. In some places, like it is the case with abortion rights, we are living a coordinated attack. In North Carolina the governor signed a law which prohibits passing LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances and bars transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. In Mississippi a new law allows any person or business to deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In fact, as of April 2016, there are more than 100 active bills across 22 states like this with the goal of legalizing discrimination against queer people (bathroom access bill’s, letting judges refuse to marry same-sex couples, letting businesses deny services to LGBT people etc.)
Queer Lives Matter! We Will Fight Back!
Given the actual situation and the silence of the Obama government regarding the erosion and violation of gay rights, it is difficult to keep a straight face when Obama and Clinton (who has supported her husband’s DOMA for 2 decades!) pretend to care about our communities.
Any significant change against the actual conditions of discrimination and violence will come from the independent and grassroots movement of the LGBTQI community and its growing allies. This time we know we are not alone, as more and more union activists, immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter organizers and Muslim communities are joining our fight. We will change this country with our struggle, our solidarity and our reciprocal care, so one day we could throw the home-grown massacre of Orlando into a distant past!
Queer/ LGBTQI Lives Matter!
Let´s Fight Any Attempt to Turn Homophobia Into Islamophobia!
We Won’t Let Trump and Clinton Fuel the Spiral of Hate in Our Country!
Full Anti-Discrimination Protections for the LGBTQI Community Now!