Amer­ica, your hands are not clean in Or­lando mas­sacre

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By DAR­IAN AARON daaron@the­gavoice.com

On Sun­day, June 12 at 7:17 a.m., I awoke to a fran­tic text mes­sage from my best friend of over twenty years in­form­ing me of a shoot­ing at a gay club in Or­lando. Not yet fully awake, the se­ri­ous­ness of his text or what I’d learn upon search­ing for de­tails on­line didn’t fully reg­is­ter in my mind un­til I turned my tele­vi­sion to CNN. I’ll never be able to erase the im­ages of wounded vic­tims be­ing dragged from Pulse night­club along the side­walk to the safety of am­bu­lances and po­lice ve­hi­cles from the mas­sacre that we now know claimed 49 in­no­cent lives and in­jured 53 others.

They just wanted to dance— in a safe place where their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity or pub­lic af­fec­tion wouldn’t be sub­jected to dis­ap­prov­ing looks, ver­bal ha­rass­ment or phys­i­cal at­tacks. And in a mat­ter of hours, Omar Ma­teen, the gunman re­spon­si­ble for the deadliest mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory vi­o­lated their sanc­tu­ary and dimmed their light for­ever.

A lot has been un­cov­ered about Ma­teen in the days fol­low­ing his hor­rific and cow­ardly act, yet ques­tions re­main. Was he gay? Was it an act of ter­ror­ism? Should the shoot­ing be la­beled an LGBT hate crime? Is this God’s way of pun­ish­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity for em­brac­ing what some con­sider ‘sin­ful be­hav­ior’ based on their lim­ited and of­ten ho­mo­pho­bic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of scrip­ture?

There are no easy an­swers to these ques­tions, and a vig­or­ous dis­cus­sion should and will con­tinue about the years, days and hours that led Ma­teen to Pulse to shat­ter the lives of 49 in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies along with the per­ceived safety and progress of LGBT peo­ple and our al­lies around the world. What I do know for sure is that Ma­teen re­peat­edly pulled the trig­ger, but it was the so­ci­ety in which he was reared that sup­plied the bul­lets.

Amer­ica, your hands are not clean. Churches, your hands are not clean. Anti-gay politi­cians, your hands are not clean. Par­ents whose love is con­di­tional for your LGBT chil­dren or com­pletely with­held be­cause of your in­abil­ity to ac­knowl­edge their hu­man­ity, your hands are not clean.

A cul­ture that fos­ters and pro­motes anti­gay sen­ti­ment —and for some, in re­cent days, re­fused to even ac­knowl­edge the vic­tims as LGBT peo­ple of color, thereby eras­ing their iden­ti­ties even in death—must share some of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ha­tred Ma­teen and others like him har­bor.

Amer­i­cans have mas­tered pray­ing for vic­tims of gun vi­o­lence in one breath, and in the case of LGBT Amer­i­cans, con­demn­ing us to hell in the very next. Ac­tivist and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual Dar­nell Moore said it best in one of the many Face­book sta­tus up­dates he’s writ­ten since the Or­lando tragedy: “And for my church-go­ing friends now pray­ing for the dead, who might oth­er­wise be in sanc­tu­ar­ies where we LGBTQI folk have been called hell-bound sin­ners and demons and much else, take some time to pray for your folk, too, be­cause tragedies like this are a con­se­quence of the vi­o­lent the­olo­gies preached from the pul­pits many sup­port.”

I don’t cry of­ten, but in the two weeks since Ma­teen walked into Pulse and un­leashed a wave of ter­ror, the tears have come swiftly and with a height­ened aware­ness that it could have been me. When I think about the fear that surely en­gulfed the vic­tims as gun­shots rang out, or as they wit­nessed the bodies of those around them drop to the floor upon im­pact, or as Ed­die Jamol­droy Justice sent his last text mes­sage from the bath­room floor of the club to his mother in­form­ing her that he was go­ing to die, the tears come and they don’t re­lent. This is our Amer­ica.

Where it’s eas­ier to buy an assault weapon than it is to guar­an­tee that ev­ery cit­i­zen will have ac­cess to a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion or the right to vote. Where same-sex cou­ples can be mar­ried on Fri­day and fired on Mon­day. And where anti-gay/trans ha­tred is writ­ten into law and the deaths of LGBT peo­ple are praised and deemed God’s will. This is the cul­ture that loaded his gun.

The po­ten­tial for Ma­teen to com­mit ad­di­tional acts of ter­ror may have died with him, but the lessons in in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal ha­tred and ho­mo­pho­bia that he learned lives on. Amer­i­cans now have an op­por­tu­nity to change the les­son plan. And LGBT Amer­i­cans must re­main vig­i­lant, aware and un­wa­ver­ing in our truth. A bul­let can kill the body but it can never kill the soul.

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