It’s been a very rough week.
Over the past few days the reality of what happened in Orlando has hit me like a tonne of bricks. I—like many other queers—have woken each day with what I can only describe as a pit of terror in my stomach.
That fear comes from the realisation that this happened in what was supposed to be one of our safe spaces. While I know there’s a history of violence in queer spaces, that realisation is still hard. I’ve been to gay clubs, many times, and I know what that night would have been like. I can picture the dancing, the music, the flirting. Then I cannot stop picturing those people, and the fear they must have felt as the bullets began to fire.
But then there’s something even worse that hits me. Every day, as I read the news, I’m terrified of what this is going to do to our community.
There’s been some amazing solidarity in the queer community following the massacre. I felt super proud watching Owen Jones storming out of his Sky News Interview, and it’s been heart warming seeing people talk about the importance of safe queer spaces. With a fire in my heart I read the ramblings of a woman who described herself as a ‘middle-aged dyke’, wracked with guilt that her generation was not able to stop this happening, and rallying the troops to continue the fight.
Yet, it’s noticeable how these stories have been missing from much of the mainstream. In the past few days we’ve seen a lot of the standard narratives about this attack. Instead of talking about entrenched homophobia, we’ve heard a lot about “Islamic extremism” and gun control. Many have been quick to use this as an excuse to continue their racism and anti-immigration rhetoric. Donald Trump reinforced his position of banning Muslim immigration, Hillary Clinton called for greater surveillance and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull justified his “border security” policies.
This is not to say that religious ideology should not be part of the debate. Omar Mateen is reported to have pledged allegiance to ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and we must recognise the importance of that. We cannot shy away from the realities of the radical religious ideologies that are permeating not just through the Arabic World but the West as well.
But if we let this rhetoric continue to dominate the debate, all it will achieve is turning us against ourselves.
Yes, there are Muslims, and people in the Arabic world who hate us, just as there are Christians who say same-sex marriage is akin to the atrocities of Nazi Germany or feel it’s appropriate to read passages of the Bible that call for the death of homosexuals in Congress. But just like the queer community, as with the Christian community, the Arabic World is extraordinarily diverse. As there are those Muslims who want to kill us there are also those who are struggling against these hateful ideologies. There are queer Muslims and queer Arabs who have built vibrant communities and are fighting every day for their liberation. We’ve already seen this with the multitude of stories of queer Muslims who are also mourning this tragedy.
If we let the standard narrative play out, the narrative that talks about Islamic extremism and immigration and erases the oppression of queer people — it is this community that will lose out the most. It will be queer Arabs who will likely face increasing surveillance, be blocked from immigration, or as has already occurred, be placed in detention centres on Pacific nations in the name of ‘border security’. Most of all it will be queer Arabs who will face increasing violence in the Middle East as these policies fuel the radical ideologies of organisations like ISIS.
What’s been enraging about this week has been the erasure of queer voices and experiences from so much of the debate. It highlights a continued hatred of queers that runs across cultural and religious lines. The way so many of our “leaders” have dealt with this massacre highlights this goes well beyond the experiences of those in Orlando. It is also about erasing the Muslim and Arab queers who have been fighting these ideologies from day one.
I have seen so much solidarity over the past few days. It has been extremely heartwarming. As the dust settles this needs to get bigger, better and bolder. We need to make sure it crosses political, religious and cultural barriers. That is the positive we could take out of such an atrocity.