This Saturday’s massacre at a gay club in Orlando claimed the lives of 50 innocent people; but it also sent shock waves across the globe. In a nation which celebrated legalising gay marriage just under a year ago, the hatred against the LGBT+ community is still strong enough for such tragedies to occur. And it’s attacks like these that strike fear, sadness, anger and helplessness into the hearts of everyone in this very same community.
There are a lot of other factors that also contributed towards the night that saw 50 people senselessly murdered. Gun control (or total lack thereof) is one of them. And yes, this was an act of terrorism, but to everyone arguing that this is a “human tragedy” and asking LGBT+ people to “stop making it out to be more than it is” there are a few things I’d like you to consider.
1. The shootings were carried out in a gay nightclub. This was not an accident; this was a hate crime. To many a gay club or bar is a space to be themselves freely, and without judgement. Attacking a place of refuge was done to send a message.
2. In Malta this same “disgust” for LGBT+ individuals is a very real problem. If you don’t believe us, check out the comments under big media houses’ articles where a rainbow flag is the featured photo.
We may have come a long way in terms of legislation, but the hate in our country isn’t going anywhere. How many Maltese people are afraid to be seen with their partner in public? How many Maltese people have accepted themselves, but aren’t ‘out at work’ or ‘out to the family’? We will hopefully never see violent attacks on the same scale as Orlando, but at some point we’ve all been told that we’ll “get what’s coming to [us] in hell”.
3. The way we speak matters, and small changes can help. “Tkunx pufta man… tiehux alik, fhimtni bro”. It may not have been intended as a direct insult, but attaching negative sentiments to being LGBT+ (“that’s so gay” being the epitome of this) reinforces the deep-set hatred a lot of people feel towards the community. Trust me, there are many other ways to call someone stupid.
4. Arguing against the fact that it was a hate crime is part of the culture that led to the massacre happening. When you downplay the homophobic aspect of the attack, you work to lessen the visibility of LGBT+ people. And visibility means more open and honest conversation. If people met, talked to, and became friends with an LGBT+ person they’d soon come to the groundbreaking realisation: “Maybe they’re not disgusting after all. Interesting.”
Before walking out of an interview with hosts who downplayed the significance of the victims being targeted for being LGBT+ (a story The Times reported as ‘odd news’), journalist Owen Jones pointed out that “If [the shooter] walked into a synagogue and massacred dozens of Jewish people…you would be talking about it as an anti-semitic attack”.
You may feel helpless in the wake of such news, but there is something you can do to help. This Friday, at a vigil organised by Lovin Malta and Drachma Parents’ Group, we’ll be honouring the victims of this horrific attack.
If you’re angry about what happened last Saturday at Orlando’s gay club, you should join us this Friday.
If reading a son’s last texts to his mother broke your heart, you should join us this Friday.
If you love and support the members of the LGBT+ community, you should join us this Friday.
The walk will be one that focuses on love. It will be a walk in which we stand as a strong and united community to honour the lives of those who were senselessly murdered. If you’re joining, bring placards with messages of hope; bring friends and allies who were there for you, and understand why you need their love and support.