Time to call out the homophobia and Islamist extremism of the Orlando massacre

In the early hours of Sunday morning a gunman opened fire at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 more before being shot dead by police. It was later revealed that the gunman was Omar Mateen. In a telephone call to emergency services before the attack, Mateen had sworn allegiance to Islamic extremist terrorist group IS and had, according to his father, previously expressed “revulsion” at the sight of two men kissing.

The revelation that the gunman had repeatedly visited the Pulse gay bar and had messaged men via gay dating apps suggests that he may have also been motivated by an internalised homophobic self-hatred and a warped desire to atone for what he saw as his wicked, perverse 'lust' and 'sin'. Perhaps he saw himself as doing Allah's will by killing 'sodomites'; thereby hoping to secure redemption and martyrdom?

Whatever the truth, the Orlando attack is the worst targeting killing of LGBT people in the West since the Holocaust.

Shocking, but unsurprising

While the Orlando attacks were shocking, they were not surprising. There had always been a possibility that Islamist extremists would choose to target gay communities in the West, whether as lone attackers or via organised terrorist cells. Islamic extremists have a pathological hatred of LGBT people, and also of Jews, secularists, feminists and liberal and ex-Muslims.

The Orlando attacks should serve a wake-up call to LGBT organisations and venues in the US, Britain and other Western countries to strengthen their vigilance. There is no room for the complacent and naïve belief that Islamist fanatics will confine their killing of gay people to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Security must be increased at the London LGBT Pride parade later this month, and at other events that could be targeted in the UK, such as those involving the Jewish community, atheists and progressive and former Muslims.

I deplore those who want to use this slaughter to demonise and scapegoat the Muslim community, the vast majority of whom deplore terrorism as much as everyone else and who have often been its victims, such as in the 9/11 and 7/7 outrages. Our thanks to the many Muslims who have spoken out against the Orlando killings and expressed their solidarity with the LGBT community.

But some Muslim leaders need to end their silence and do much more to defend LGBTs, especially LGBT Muslims who are often marginalised and persecuted by other Muslims.  

The Government and local and university authorities need to crackdown on the Islamist hate clerics who advocate the killing of LGBT people, apostates, blasphemers and women who have sex outside of marriage. We need zero tolerance of those who justify and glorify murder.

The Orlando attack is an extreme example of the violence that happens on a daily basis to LGBT people all over the world. Thousands are killed, maimed and hospitalised every year by violent homophobic assailants; ranging from individuals, gangs and mobs, to organised political and religious zealots, from the neo-Nazi far right to Islamists and Christian and Judaist fundamentalists. Millions of LGBT people – especially in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia – live in daily fear of being beaten and even killed. This violates all international human rights norms and is intolerable in the twenty-first century.

The US must change

One of the most fitting, lasting commemorations of the Pulse nightclub victims would be for the US to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Currently, the State of Florida does not regulate assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, nor does it require a permit to buy a gun or oblige owners of weapons to be licensed. This makes it far too easy for terrorists such as Omar Mateen to carry out such horrifying acts of hate.

The US should also repeal legal discrimination against LGBT people and require every school to educate pupils against all hate, including against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, as well as against racism, misogyny and anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice. Mandatory equality and diversity lessons are also long overdue in all UK schools but the Government has, so far, rebuffed such a policy as a way to tackle intolerance and radicalisation.

The condolences to the Orlando victims expressed by Florida Senator, and former Republican Party Presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, smack of hypocrisy. Rubio has repeatedly opposed gay equality, including wanting to repeal same-sex marriage and protection against discrimination for LGBT employees. His anti-gay stance has fanned the flames of homophobia.

Media coverage

Last Sunday evening, the Guardian columnist Owen Jones appeared on Sky News’s Press Preview alongside talkRADIO presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer. On the show, Jones, a gay man, expressed his belief that the Orlando attack constituted both a terrorist attack and a homophobic attack on LGBT people. In response, Sky’s host, Mark Longhurst, repeatedly refused to accept that this was an attack on LGBT people. Instead he insisted that it was an attack “against human beings” and against “the freedom of all people to try to enjoy themselves”.

Much of the LGBT community was appalled by the line of questioning used by Longhurst. Normally a good interviewer, Longhurst appeared to downplay the fact that the Orlando slaughter was a specific, deliberate and targeted attack on gay people. It is almost inconceivable that Longhurst would have chosen to claim that such an attack was one “against all people” if this had been a massacre of Jewish or Black people. In such circumstances, Longhurst would have almost certainly classified the massacre as anti-Semitic or racially-motivated. To not make the point that Orlando was an explicit attack against LGBT people was insensitive to LGBT people everywhere.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation