The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando shows that tackling homophobia in all its guises is as important now as it ever was
What made Omar Mateen embark on a murderous rampage that left 49 people dead and 53 injured, is the question most people are currently seeking answers to. What provokes someone to execute innocent people in cold blood?
Was he crazy? Certainly. Was he linked to ISIS? Potentially, although probably not. At least, not in the same way as the Paris attackers were. Mateen pledged allegiance to the group but it is unlikely he acted under their direct instruction. Was he instead a self-hating gay man whose tendencies towards same-sex attraction manifested not in love but in a violent wave of internalised homophobia?
It may seem a convenient ploy by the media to implicate the gay community somehow in its own destruction, much the same way as they did with the Aids epidemic in the 1980s. The subtext runs that if Omar Mateen was in fact gay or unable to come to terms with his queer feelings, then it’s hardly the problem of heteronormative society.
Except, it doesn’t quite work that way. The fact that Omar Mateen may have been a gay man does not make this an intra-community matter, but forces us to ask serious questions about internalised homophobia and the society that produces such an effect on LGBT people.
Revel & Riot defines internalised homophobia as a reaction suffered by LGBT people when they are ‘subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.’
The Rainbow Project goes further, providing a list of 25 points that could potentially signal internalised homophobia. They include at least three which Omar Mateen could have been said to exhibit:
- Contempt for the more open or obvious members of the LGBT community
- …distancing by engaging in homophobic behaviours – ridicule, harassment, verbal or physical attacks on other LGBT people
- Becoming psychologically abused or abusive or remaining in an abusive relationship
We may never know exactly what caused Omar Mateen to commit such atrocities, but as we come together to denounce his actions and mourn the senseless loss of life, it’s worth asking ourselves what we can do to tackle homophobia.
Society may seem a progressive — even accepting — place, especially considering homosexuality has only been legal in the UK for just under 50 years, but the reality is that while the world celebrated same sex marriage being legalised in the US last year and UK (excluding Northern Ireland) in 2014, even western society can still be a dangerous for LGBT people.
Growing up in an orthodox Catholic household, homophobia was the order of the day. Despite my parents listening to Elton John’s music, the man himself provoked disgust and derision. Julian Clary was something else entirely. His humour was lost on them and the reaction to his mere presence was one of physical revulsion.
Times may have moved on and thankfully, perhaps because of this needless display of baseless, naked hate, I grew up to be as tolerant as I was atheist. Yet our society still marginalises gay people, perhaps just less openly than my parents did. LGBT youth are up to four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide and in the UK 2014 – 2015 saw a shocking 22% rise in homophobic crimes.
The attitudes of my parent’s generation may be gradually fading, superseded by a more openly accepting society, but a quick google will tell you that we still have a long way to go.
Though we may not have been able to collectively prevent what happened in Orlando, it is important that as a society we ensure we are doing everything we can to support vulnerable LGBT individuals, to provide a space that allows people to be themselves and welcomes them with open arms no matter what their sexual orientation, and a world in which identifying as LGBT is seen as no different than being right or left handed (even lefties were themselves until relatively recently the victims of prejudice.)
Every one of us has to take responsibility to guard against perpetuating negative images of gay people that can lead to homophobia in all its ugly forms.
We may never know exactly what caused Omar Mateen to pick up a gun and slaughter 49 innocent people. How much of it was a deadly mix of religious fundamentalism, homophobia and mental instability. My only hope is that those who were cruelly murdered by hate in Orlando won’t have died in vain, but that people realise that whether it’s a Bathroom bill designed to discriminate against transgender people or a homophobic massacre in a nightclub, that they are all part of the same destructive cycle and all ultimately lead to the same dark place.