All across our country and the world huge crowds have gathered in solidarity and grief remembering the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. When I see those crowds, I am humbled and moved to tears. Rainbow flags and messages of love flow freely without fear, purposely defiant, asserting that love will win. But I also hear others say we shouldn’t focus on the fact that the Pulse nightclub was targeted by an Islamic extremist because it is an iconic & popular gay bar in Orlando. We hear that we can’t possibly know that the location was targeted because it was an LGBT club, and it shouldn’t matter. We’re all Americans they insist.
On the surface this sounds great. I would love nothing more than to believe that LGBT Americans like me would be completely accepted into the fold of my country. But, that’s not what’s happening here. To dismiss the fact that this is a hate crime is plain wrong. To try to smooth over the fact that LGBT hate is one common thread between extremists in both Muslim and Christian Faiths is disingenuous, to say the least. This terrorist has been quoted as making statements of anger about seeing two men kiss, and in his Muslim associations, there is a focus on anti-gay teachings and bias. The LGBT community has been the target of nearly universal hate throughout history. That hate has been justified by religions all over the world. Just the past few months have seen scores of anti-gay legislation introduced throughout this country. In The United States of America, we are supposed to be different, our religious tolerance is supposed to guarantee the right of every citizen the freedom to worship, live, and love.
Although gay Americans finally won the right to marry a couple of years ago, most of us would still be hesitant to do something as simple as holding hands in public. For my friends and family who still don’t understand why there is a need for laws to protect gay people, that is how simple it is. I can’t even hold my wife’s hand in public for fear that someone might be offended and want to physically harm us. That is what makes this attack so insidious. For many LGBT people, a place like Pulse is one of the few havens from an otherwise homophobic and violent world. Saturday night’s attack changed that perception of safety. That’s what terrorists seek to do. They want to kill in places where we feel the most vulnerable. Pulse was perfect for this hellish objective. No different than attacking a church or synagogue or mosque. And just like the congregations of those places of worship, I hope that LGBT people will not let fear drive them from the places that offer affirmation, acceptance, and love.
When I see huge crowds forming in support for the victims of the Pulse massacre, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful that born out of this horrific tragedy will be a transformation, a realization that LGBT people are fully Americans, deserving of every right that most Americans take for granted. I’m hopeful that being Americans will the most important thing that binds us all together, and that we can forget about who I love and be glad we love just like you. Most importantly, we love our country every bit as much as you. Our LGBT DNA is another unique thread in the fabric of this great country, the diversity we have always celebrated as the strength that sets us apart from the rest of the world. That is what I hope to see—a recognition that we are equally American.
So, America, if we really want to make a statement of solidarity in the name of the victims in Orlando, let’s start by acknowledging the truth of the brazen hate crime against LGBT citizens. To be sure, if this had been an attack on a police station, we would of course say it was a terrorist targeting police officers. Let’s call the Pulse attack what it is: A hate crime and simultaneously the worst domestic terrorist attack in our history. To ignore the significance of the LGBT target is another way of minimizing the lives of LGBT people. Let’s all stand up to hate by being unafraid to say openly that 39 of our citizens were murdered and 40+ more were wounded because they were in a gay club. The victims were murdered not just because they were Americans, they were targeted because they were LGBT Americans. And all of America should say so.