By Mica Lemire
The wheels have been churning in my head for about a day now. Usually with things like this I need to take a moment to fully internalize the complexity of a problem and grapple with all of the elements involved with it, much less to find the common thread in everything I was to say, so that I can get it out all at once. I will do so right now, and I will attempt to cite all of my sources along the way.
The common thread, I think, it politics. Used the wrong way, the word "politics" is almost a tired platitude. In this case, how quickly the talk of politics should begin after an unspeakable tragedy like the one yesterday.
Here is my answer: A man got angered seeing two other men kissing (1), and decided that he was going to kill as many of us as he could. It became political the second that he, a man who had been twice investigated by the FBI for terror ties and with a history of poor mental health (2), was poised to kill as many marginalized people as the clips of an AR-15 and a standard-issue Glock 9 (3) would permit.
So rest assured. I'm not the one making it political. It was political from the start, and it is never too soon to call on policymakers to take proactive steps to protect all marginalized people, including the POC and others who are affected by this same system of violence, and the Latinx community that was also directly affected by this incident.
The specific calls to action are many, but one important takeaway, and primarily the one I want to highlight in this piece, is to avoid scapegoating Islam for the violence committed against queer people. As a sidetone, it is never too soon, however, to have conversations about guns, mental health, and other factors as it relates to the safety of queer people and as it is rooted in credible fact.
That being said, there exists a particular tension between politicizing this as the manifestation of extreme religious ideology or homophobia. Capitol hill, as a rule, doesn't seem hesitant to call this an act of terror. Furthermore, the radical right has gone as far to erase the identities (4) of the victims for a number of political motives– including and up to scapegoating solely Islam for domestic terror.
Keep in mind, however, that few politicians have acknowledged the role of right wing terrorism in the U.S., which poses a significantly greater threat to the people of this country (5), and that which is fueled by a narrative, and often religious views, that equally oppresses us and wants us dead (6). Violence against LGBTQ+ people isn't the calculus of just radical Islam. Terrorism is endemic in this country, but it is the instrumentation of multiple ideologies to instill fear in a number of groups, including LGBT people.
One thing that bears mentioning in discerning the respective roles of "anti-minority hate" and "religion" is that of the state. The U.S. government has– intentionally or unintentionally– cultivated a conflict between Islam and queer people that threatens to create a gigantic schism between the two, especially now.
The "pinkwashing" of Western interventions in the Middle East exists to legitimize the same in the eyes of leftists, but are often received by Middle Easterners as an apparatus a larger Western Imperialist agenda (6). As a consequence, queer movements in these countries are met with significant religious and political resistance, which manifests as instances of homophobic sects (e.g.: ISIS) committing horrid acts against LGBTQ+ people. In the very specific context of the Pulse massacre, hate and religion are two sides of the same coin: "There will be attempts to pit two vulnerable communities, LGBT and Muslims, against each other. Resist them." (7)
If we, as a movement, are going to hold any single force accountable for the current system of violence, it should be the politicians who prop up our dead bodies to legitimize anti-Muslim domestic and international policy (8 & 9). And the same politicians who systematically ignore our own struggle at home.
Every day of the week, my brothers and sisters have been killed by every kind of person, under banners of all nations, reading pages from all kinds of scriptures. Today, a part of the community was killed off by someone of Islamic faith. Tomorrow, it may be an atheist or a Christian or a Buddhist. Remember, however, that solidarity between our gigantic intersection of communities has shaped this country tremendously since 1969, and it can only continue to do so if we recognize Islam as a victim of the same struggle against the forces that want to keep us down.
And do not forget, of course, to mourn the lost as we fight for change.