A guest post by the Low Priestess
‘The shooter was gay’. On Tuesday when I arrived at an LGBT community group I was told this and it was as if the bottom dropped out of my head. I think the extremity of my shock and upset was because I had been here before: with Brian Copeland who murdered 3 people and maimed more at the Admiral Duncan in Soho, who tried to bomb Brick Lane and set a bomb in Brixton Market that put nails into a baby’s head. (Later working with older LGBTs I met someone whose life had fallen apart that night of the Admiral Duncan attack.) I was out in London that night in 1999, and roadblocks made it hard to get home. It was very frightening, few of us had mobiles then and I couldn’t get any news or ring my partner. I was trying to get to the Glass Bar (a lesbian bar) to get off the street and I even got frightened that fascists were going round planting bombs in all the LGBT bars that night. A week later we marched from Brixton, through Old Compton Street to Brick Lane. Then, a year or so later, when Copeland was sentenced I was by chance in The Naz restaurant in Brick Lane, listening to the radio they had on. I had hoped Copeland’s attacks had at least brought the Brixton, Brick Lane and LGBT communities closer together. The Brick Lane bomb which had not gone off, due to the incredible bravery of a South Asian man, had been close to the Naz. Now on the radio I heard people discussing that Copeland was ‘really gay’ and I imagined the supposed solidarity evaporating as waiters and diners heard it. No, we were not victims, it seemed to say, we were the perpetrators.
So this time I argued about ‘the shooter was gay’. I was upset. I said ‘having same sex attractions doesn’t make you gay. Same sex attraction is a very ordinary human experience for a fairly large proportion of the population if they don’t manage to repress it. What makes you gay or bi is embracing that and identifying as gay or bisexual.’
Later that day, though I stood with that, and stand with it still, I had to come to terms with the fact Omar Mateen may have been strongly attracted to men. I did more thinking about internalised murderous homophobia and its causes, which I believe lie in the pervasive homophobia and transphobia still rampant in society. It doesn’t really matter what culture someone has in their background, he could have come from one of many that nurture homophobia and push same sex attractions into hate. Same sex marriage doesn’t cut it for me, I don’t experience this as the cherry on the top of a raft of equality protections that have made it safer to be LGBTQIA. Oh no, nothing so good as that. I am not safe till all my LGBTQIA siblings are safe (and especially LGB and trans people of colour, who are disproportionately targeted in hate crime). What matters to me is what people are taught about homosexuality (if it is mentioned at all) and how they are supported, and by whom, if their orientation turns out to be at odds with the views of their family or community.
Mostly I am very concerned that much of straight society may take even less responsibility for the way heterosexism and homophobia led to this horror: as if it were only a psychological problem of people who cannot accept their own sexuality. So it could all be made ‘other’ by the majority white, cisgendered, heterosexual society, the society Mateen grew up in. So much ‘other’. I can imagine some thinking, generalising, othering: ‘Well he was gay, and he was Muslim and they are so anti gay aren’t they? He must have had mental health problems. Nothing to do with us. Nothing to see here, let’s move on’.
However Mateen’s hatred and anger were part of a widespread problem of bigotry and uncontrolled blame of othered groups which society does too little to address. He was not only homophobic, apparently. As well as being violent and controlling to his first wife, on her evidence, he seems to have been bigoted in many ways: he was reportedly a racist and misogynist too. The fact he targeted the Latin night of Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed Latinx and Black clubbers is part of the toxic mix. If you have read their names and seen their photos, this becomes clear. (I read in the Evening Standard that many of the victims were of Latin origin. ‘Many’ is not enough – all but one or two seem to have been Latinx people or appear to be Black or mixed race).
According to a former colleague in G4S, David Gilroy, who was quoted in the New York Times on Sunday 12 June :
“I complained multiple times [to G4S] that he was dangerous, that he didn’t like blacks, women, lesbians and Jews,”
Ah, so Mateen might also perhaps, given his apparently constant anger, have targeted any of these groups.
But of course it is still all speculative and everything about motive serves someone’s agenda. Even mine.
Yes, I have an agenda. I crave a widespread programme in response to this massacre, to all the other massacres of children and teenagers and college students, of women who had not been sexually available to a shooter, of LGB people and of the vast numbers of trans people killed. I would like it to be not only in the USA, not only to be a response to gun availability (crucial as that is) for we have homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynist murders all over the world. I don’t want to see them happen serially, in the night, either, in areas where guns are not available. I would like the programme to look at systemic bigotry in all kinds of services, and in government, and to institute urgently needed educational programmes in schools. There it is, my agenda.
In the meanwhile I would like to see respect for grief and loss and fear, for as long as it takes, in the communities affected by this, those from whence the victims came and those who have something in common with the shooter. As indeed I have myself. I would have liked minutes of silence in workplaces, few I believe have happened. I have not been calling for the rainbow flag on people’s profiles or cries of ‘Je Suis Pulse!’. But the difference in response from this one to other massacres can be startling for those of us, whatever our orientation, who have continued through the week to grieve and fear and hold each other for comfort, and search, sometimes hopelessly (but never really giving up) for hope.
The Low Priestess came out in 1965 and has been a queer activist since 1972, assisted by her animist, pantheist and polytheist beliefs, and a highly skilled series of cats.