Culture

The Orlando Shootings Are A Threat To Queer Safe Spaces Everywhere

This wasn't just a terrorist attack - it was a hate crime.

Over the past 24 hours, the world has been witness to an absolutely horrific scene that’s still developing in Orlando, Florida. At the time of writing, there are 50 people declared dead, and another 53 injured in a mass shooting inside the LGBTQIA Pulse nightclub. In what has been noted as not just an act of terror, but a LGBTQIA hate crime, the Orlando shooting has instantly become a dark mark laid on the supposed progress of queer acceptance.

It’s an event that is loaded with significance and meaning — so what do we know?

The shooter was killed on the scene, and has now been identified as Omar Mateen. He had been known to US authorities since 2013, and was allegedly abusive to his ex-partner. He was an American-born citizen, with parents from Afghanistan, and was not known to be particularly religious. According to his father, Mateen was, however, openly upset by the sight of two men kissing.

According to The Daily Beast, Mateen contacted 911 prior to opening fire on the nightclub — which was holding an event in memory of a community member that had passed from HIV — and claimed allegiance to the notorious extremist Islamic State group. The group has not claimed ownership of what is now the worst mass shooting in US history, but affiliated media has praised the attack.

There was also an incident in Los Angeles, where a man was found in his car with an amount of guns, and the plan to attack the Pride parade, with the intent to harm LGBTQIA community.

The Threat To Safe Spaces

This event has ripped open a part of a marginalised community that is extremely sacred — the notion of a safe space. For those that are unaware, a safe space is a place that is accepting of folk of all genders and sexualities, and is always active in eradicating hatred and oppression within its boundaries. A safe space is somewhere where a person can go and feel completely free to be the self that they truly identify with. It is a place of no judgement, no hatred, and no prejudice.

By having a cis-gendered male enter this type of space and kill, injure, and threaten the people inhabiting the space, the safety of these sanctuaries is immediately threatened. Not just the one inside Pulse Nightclub in Orlando — but all safe spaces are now threatened.

It has been demonstrated that a person who doesn’t identify as queer can enter and effectively destroy the culture of acceptance that has formed within a safe space. It has put every single one of these spaces across the world in extreme danger. A place that has always been known as an oasis from the bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, physical threats, assaults, and murders that happen in the outside world, has now been torn to shreds. This is erasure.

This Is An LGBTQIA Issue And The Media Is Reluctant To Report That

From scouring the media this morning, there is an undoubted reluctance to report that this shooting is a hate crime against the LGBTQIA community. Reports and statements are flooding in about the shooting occurring in a nightclub, not a gay nightclub, queer nightclub, or a LGBTQIA space. The media is complying and assisting in the erasure of the significance this mass shooting has on a community that is not the dominant population. Few are noting that it is currently Pride Month in the US, one of the most significant events on the American LGBTQIA calendar; and this heated exchange on Sky News shows the reluctance of the mainstream media to acknowledge this as a homophobic hate crime.

Is it an attempt to turn it all into an Us vs Them charade again — despite the fact that queer muslims exist, and are in mourning too? The focus is being shifted away from ‘this is a hate crime against an already-oppressed collective of people’ to ‘this is an attack on us all’. It’s not. It’s not an attack on cis-gendered, white, middle-class citizens. It is an attack on a brave minority of folk who seek refuge in a place they have little fear in being themselves.

It’s gross to see that this event is so quickly being politicised to be another facet in the War on Terror. Call it what it is. Yes, it’s a terror attack, but it is primarily a LGBTQIA hate crime. Innocent people have been slaughtered because one man apparently didn’t like the idea of two men showing affection to each other publicly. The dominant community should be allowing people from the continually-marginalised minority this has directly affected, threatened, and killed, to speak.

Many are angered. The evidence is there as soon as Facebook or Twitter is opened. Many more have an inability to articulate the feelings and emotions. When the words come, we must let them speak.

Lead image by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Courtney Fry is a Sydney-based writer who has had her words in The Vocal, PagesDigital, LUSH Cosmetics, and other places. She’s currently working on Sad Grrrls Festival, has a soft spot for cheeseboards and dog parks, and tweets over at @courtwhip.