The recent shootings in Orlando are, without a doubt, a terrorist attack. However, it is not the terrorism that so much of the mainstream media is playing into, with their focus being on shooter Omar Mateen’s alleged pledge of allegiance to ISIS. Rather, it is terrorism against the LGBT community, especially Latinx LGBT people, and, due to the backlash from the far right and politicians who want to focus on Mateen’s religion, Muslim LGBT people. We need to understand and realize that this shooting goes much deeper than just terrorism and touches on a number of aspects of American culture itself.
Despite the victory of same sex marriage, there is still a large amount of bigotry against the LGBT community. One only need to look at the large number of states which have passed laws that protect “state officials, faith leaders, and religious organizations who act on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is only acceptable between husband and wife, and that gender is established at birth.” This is done under the guise of ‘religious liberty,’ in which it is argued that someone is just practicing their faith when discriminating against LGBT people, yet actually inverts the entire situation by promoting the idea that “Christians who object to homosexuality on biblical grounds [are] victims of religious persecution.” Add to this the recent ongoing hysteria involving transgender people using the bathrooms of their gender identity.
The situation which hadn’t been a problem before, suddenly exploded into the mainstream when the North Carolina legislature passed a bill which “[struck] down all existing LGBT nondiscrimination statutes across the state, on top of banning transgender people from using some public restrooms.” The arguments became so controversial that the White House stepped in and made clear that, with regards to public schools, transgender children can use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. In response, states have sued the Obama administration and/or have voted to ignore the directive. Unfortunately, these bathroom laws have had a very real effect on transgender people, with calls to the transgender suicide hotline Trans Lifeline doubling after the passing of the North Carolina bill. Thus, we see that there is a general atmosphere across that nation that is hostile to people in the LGBT community.
It should be noted that Mateen attacked Pulse during its Latin Night and it has been reported that “a co-worker recalled him as a virulent racist.” It is quite obvious that there is an atmosphere against Latinos in the US, with everything from presidential candidate Donald Trump saying that he was going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and that Mexicans were all rapists and criminals to the old and tired argument that immigrants (specifically Mexicans) were stealing jobs from people, the anti-Latino sentiment in the US is alive and intensifying, and has been for quite some time. Mateen’s racism isn’t random, but rather a possible byproduct of the anti-Latina/o bigotry that has been being expressed more and more openly over the years.
It has also been noted that he was abusive toward his wife. This is rather important to note as there is a connection between gun violence and domestic abuse; in addition to there regularly being an undercurrent of misogyny in many shooting incidents, from George Zimmerman who was arrested for domestic violence to Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley who shot his ex-girlfriend before going on to kill two NYPD officers to the UCLA shooter who killed his estranged wife in Minnesota before driving to UCLA to shoot a professor. Violence against women and gun violence are often linked together.
On a personal level, Mateen may have lived in a homophobic household as his father released a video the day after the shooting, where he said that “God will punish those involved in homosexuality.” There is also the possibility that Mateen himself was gay or at least attracted to men. According to the Palm Beach Post, “One former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class told The Palm Beach Post that he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once tried to pick him up at a bar.” Mateen frequented Pulse as well, yet, due to both the homophobia at home and in society more generally, he may have not wanted to come out and may have internalized that shame, finally acting on it in the shooting.
The point of this isn’t to play armchair psychologist, but rather to acknowledge Omar Mateen’s views didn’t develop in a vacuum, they were caused by deeper cultural problems involving bigotry against the LGBT community, women, Latinos, and immigrants that are reflective of the larger American society.
In terms of the response to the shooting, there has been focus on terrorism and ISIS, gun control, and some arguing that the tragedy affected everyone, not just LGBT people.
Not soon after the tragedy, both presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton responded. Trump “[lambasted] the president and Clinton for not using the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ seemed to advocate looser concealed carry laws, and repeated his call for a ‘temporary’ policy to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.” whereas Clinton said that she “supports the U.S. efforts to contain ISIS” and wants “tighter gun safety laws.”
Where both Trump and Clinton agreed was that the US needed to bomb ISIS more, which The Intercept writer Zaid Jilani noted was a bit of a problem as “no operational links between ISIS and the alleged Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, have been discovered” and “neither explained how escalating bombardments in Iraq and Syria would do anything to stop self-radicalized and/or unhinged attackers in the United States.” Yet, the pro-military argument plays into the terrorism narrative that has been going on non-stop since 9/11 and possibly plays into the larger regional game the US has as it could be argued that ISIS needs to be stopped permanently and the only way to do that would be to send in ground forces, something that would let the US stay directly involved in both Iraq and Syria for quite some time.
There has also been much talk about gun control and how citizens shouldn’t be able to access assault weapons, with President Obama saying “Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense.” Even Republicans, it seems, may be open to changing the nation’s gun laws.
Recently on the show Sky News Press Preview, host Mark Longhurst debated journalist Owen Jones (who is gay) on the causes of the attack, saying that “it was an attack on the ‘freedom of people trying to enjoy themselves’ on a night out” and co-guest Julia Hartley-Brewer told Jones “I don’t think you have ownership of the horror (sic), of this crime, because you’re gay.” On the other side of the pond, former Senator Scott Brown stated that “It’s so tragic that you have people, and a lot of them were gay and lesbian and transgender, and that’s deeply unfortunate, but I think it’s more than that. They were Americans first.” There was even an article in The Advocate entitled “There Were Straight Victims in Orlando Too.” While it is important to acknowledge that there were straight victims, by focusing the spotlight on those victims, it ignores the fact that Mateen targeted Pulse specifically because it had LGBT people there. His thoughts weren’t about the straight people that, to him, just happened to be there, they were on harming and killing LGBT folk. Saying “there were straight people too” only serves to erase the nature of the crime and relegate LGBT people to the back rows.
What both the discussion of ISIS/terrorism as well as gun control laws does is shift the narrative of the shooting, turning it away from homophobia. This should be fought as rather than focusing on the tragedy of what happened and how to combat bigotry, the situation risks becoming another game of political football for politicians to use, using the dead bodies of LGBT people as their platform.
The purposeful ignoring of the shooting as a hate crime, either explicitly or implicitly, and acting as if was a crime against all people only serves to ignore the fact that Mateen targeted Pulse specifically because it had LGBT people there. His thoughts weren’t about the straight people that, to him, just happened to be there, they were on harming and killing LGBT folk. Saying “there were straight people too” or that “they were Americans first” only serves to erase the nature of the crime and relegate LGBT people to the back rows.
When confronting tragedy, there needs to be an examination of what exactly caused the situation, not only from a criminal perspective, but also a social and cultural perspective. These mass shootings occur in a modern context where race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors intersect. To refuse to examine these intersections is a refusal to attempt to attain a fuller understanding of what occurred and why. It is a shame that people are obfuscating or ignoring the larger picture as it is extremely important.
It may save us from the next massacre.
 Molly Jackson, “How Southern States Are Now Challenging Gay Marriage,” Christian Science Monitor, February 20, 2016 (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2016/0220/How-Southern-states-are-now-challenging-gay-marriage)
 Southern Poverty Law Center, ‘Religious Liberty’ and the Anti-LGBT Right, https://www.splcenter.org/20160211/religious-liberty-and-anti-lgbt-right (February 11, 2016)
 Hannah Levintova, “North Carolina’s GOP Just Fast-Tracked The Broadest Anti-LGBT Bill In The Country,” Mother Jones, March 23, 2016 (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/03/north-carolina-bill-lgbt-discrimination-law)
 Emanuella Grinberg, “Feds Issue Guidance On Transgender Access To School Bathrooms,” CNN, May 14, 2016 (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/politics/transgender-bathrooms-obama-administration/)
 Theodore Schleifer, “Officials In 12 States To Sue Obama Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Directive,” CNN, May 27, 2016 (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/25/politics/texas-lawsuit-barack-obama-transgender/)
 Emma Brown, “Kansas State Board of Education Votes to Ignore Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive,” Stars and Stripes, June 16, 2016 (http://www.stripes.com/news/us/kansas-state-board-of-education-votes-to-ignore-obama-s-transgender-bathroom-directive-1.414884)
 Samantha Allen, “After North Carolina’s Law, Trans Suicide Hotline Calls Double,” The Daily Beast, April 20, 2016 (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/20/after-north-carolina-s-law-trans-suicide-hotline-calls-double.html)
 Yara Simón, “Worst Mass Shooting In Modern US History Takes Place at Orlando Gay Club on Latin-Themed Night,” Remezcla, June 12, 2016 (http://remezcla.com/culture/pulse-mass-shooting-latin-night/)
 Jenny Jarvie, Harriet Ryan, Del Quentin Wilber, ”Orlando Nightclub Gunman Remembered as Abusive, Homophobic, and Racist,” Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2016 (http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-orlando-nightclub-shooter-20160612-snap-story.html)
 Anna Brand, “Donald Trump: I Would Force Mexico to Build Border Wall,” MSNBC, June 28, 2015 (http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/donald-trump-i-would-force-mexico-build-border-wall)
 USA Today, Donald Trump: Mexico is Bringing Drugs, Crime, and Rapists to the US, http://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/2015/06/25/29292957/ (June 25, 2015)
 Claire Z. Cardona, “Orlando Shooter was ‘Mentally Unstable,’ Abusive, Ex-wife Says,” The Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2016 (http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2016/06/orlando-shooter-was-mentally-unstable-abusive-ex-wife-says.html/)
 Emily Crockett, “Why We Can’t Ignore the Connection between Gun Violence and Domestic Violence,” Vox, June 14, 2016 (http://www.vox.com/2016/6/14/11922576/orlando-shooting-omar-mateen-gun-domestic-violence)
 Ren Stutzman, “Girlfriend to Deputies: George Zimmerman Pointed A Shotgun at Me,” Orlando Sentinel, November 18, 2013 (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-11-18/news/os-george-zimmerman-arrested-20131118_1_george-zimmerman-murdering-17-year-old-trayvon-martin-deputies)
 Justin Fenton, “Police Say Killer of 2 NYPD Officers First Shot Ex-Girlfriend in Owings Mills,” The Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2014 (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-co-owings-mills-shooting-20141220-story.html)
 Julia Jacobo, “UCLA Shooter Killed Estranged Wife Before Campus Incident: Police,” ABC News, June 3, 2016 (http://abcnews.go.com/US/ucla-shooter-climbed-window-kill-estranged-wife-police/story?id=39597309)
 James Barrett, “5 Things You Need to Know About The Father of Orlando Jihadist Omar Mateen,” Daily Wire, June 13, 2016 (http://www.dailywire.com/news/6532/orlando-jihadists-father-god-will-punish-those-james-barrett)
 Lawrence Mower, “Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen was gay, Former Classmate Says,” Palm Beach Post, June 14, 2016 (http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/orlando-shooter-omar-mateen-was-gay-former-classma/nrfwW/)
 Paul Brinkmann, Gal Tziperman Lotan, Rene Stutzman, “Witness: Omar Mateen Had Been at Orlando nightclub Many Times,” Orlando Sentinel, June 13, 2016 (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/os-orlando-nightclub-omar-mateen-profile-20160613-story.html)
 Rebecca Shabad, “Orlando Attack Reactions from Clinton, Trump Are Starkly Different,” CBS News, June 14, 2016 (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-offer-starkly-different-reactions-to-orlando-attack/)
 Zaid Jilani, “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Call for Bombing ISIS After Orlando Shooting That ISIS Didn’t Direct,” The Intercept, June 13, 2016 (https://theintercept.com/2016/06/13/hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump-call-for-more-airstrikes-on-isis-after-orlando-massacre-that-isis-didnt-direct/)
 Robin Gradison, Alexander Mallin, “President Obama Rips Gun Control Opponents After Meeting with Orlando Victims’ Families,” ABC News, June 16, 2016 (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-visiting-families-victims-orlando/story?id=39885188)
 Ed O’Keefe, Karoun Demirjian, “In wake of Orlando shooting, gun control getting fresh look from GOP,” Washington Post, June 15, 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-wake-of-orlando-shootings-gun-control-plans-getting-a-fresh-look-from-gop/2016/06/15/e25e3b2a-3311-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html)
 Danny Boyle, “Owen Jones storms off Sky News paper review after presenter refuses to describe Orlando massacre as attack on gay people,” The Telegraph, June 13, 2016 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/13/orlando-shooting-owen-jones-storms-off-sky-news-paper-review-aft/)
 Emily Atkin, “Scott Brown Says Orlando Shooting Did Not Primarily Target Gay People,” Think Progress, June 14, 2016 (http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/06/14/3788372/scott-brown-orlando-shooting/0
 Jacob Ogles, “There Were Straight Victims in Orlando Too,” The Advocate, June 13, 2016 (http://www.advocate.com/crime/2016/6/13/there-were-straight-victims-orlando-too)
Devon Bowers is an independent writer and researcher and is the Politics/Government Department Chair of the Hampton Institute. He can be contacted at devondb[at]mail[dot]com.