At the time of writing this we are about 24hrs removed from the Orlando shootings. I have tried to sum up how I feel in the wake of this massacre, this attack on the LGBT*Q community, even just to myself: to make sense of this all internally. The truth of this, however, is that there is little sense here. If there was sense then 50 people would still be alive in Orlando, and thousands (if not millions) of LGBT*Q+ identifying people worldwide would not currently be experiencing a wide range of emotions, namely fear. Here we are, a day later: those 50 people are still dead, those millions still fear for their lives.
The most frustrating thing, for me, has been the media coverage. RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, referred to it as a shooting in a club. Not a gay club, not an “alternative” club as they sometimes call it, just a club: a normal nightclub. Sky News, normally quite decent at covering these events fairly, completely lost the plot, leading to Guardian journalist Owen Jones storming off. The former I’ve come to expect, mainly because if they mentioned it was a gay club then RTÉ would probably have had to have someone on to say how this massacre was ‘actually quite class’ for the sake of ‘balance’, but the latter surprised me a bit more. As a journalist (and yes, this college paper does count), this story is a simple one to sum up, the narrative is clear here: a man has gotten a gun & acted on his bigotry, targeting a gay nightclub in Orlando and sadly killed 50 people who just wanted to feel safe being themselves in public. Instead, because this man was a Muslim and because he reportedly did this in the name of Daesh, it has joined this bizarre narrative: when Owen Jones, the aforementioned openly-gay Guardian journo, said this massacre was “one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT peoples in the western world for generations” the response from Sky News host Mark Longhurst was “it’s something that’s carried out against human beings, isn’t it?” This attack was, as he later put it, an attack “on the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves as Bataclan was.” You can watch the majority of this segment here (at least for the moment).
I can’t describe how frustrating it was for me, as an LGBT*Q+ person, to try to process my feelings, to see my friends & peers process theirs, and to see it being handled so badly by the media at large. This was not an attack on people who want to have fun, this was not an attack on people who wanted to dance, this was an attack on LGBT*Q+ people, and to see people get this so wrong was baffling. If you did not or for some reason could not watch the full clip of that Sky News program (which is understandable with the content of it) Owen Jones walked off of the Sky set towards the end of that clip, and he should have. People who did not, who could not understand were taking the narrative away from those it truly belonged to and using it to fuel whatever issues they may have.
What was utterly bizarre about the Sky piece to me was that I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. At least when it’s an American news broadcast one can usually understand where their bias lies pretty quickly: whether they’re pro-gun, anti-Islam or, quite frequently, a combination of the two, it doesn’t take too long to discover why they’re presenting a story a certain way. And I’m sorry, I don’t have any answers as to why Sky, or Mark Longhurst, put forward this story. Maybe because it didn’t affect them directly, and in some weird Munchausen way they needed to feel sympathy.
As I said, the American media is a lot easier to predict after a mass-shooting like this, even though no shooting like this has happened before. Here’s the general journo guide to covering this event if you’re a host of a conservative show in America:
- Is the shooter brown/muslim?
- If yes, then it’s the unstoppable tide of Islam. All of Islam is bad.
- If the shooter isn’t brown/muslim, do they have a mental health condition?
- If yes, then now is the time to talk about mental health services, but never any other time.
- At all times, remember: it’s never ever the fault of guns/lack of regulation.
In the case of Orlando it’s quite clear cut, following this list: Omar Mateen is Muslim (though by all reports he wasn’t particularly religious), so that’s an easy fit. ‘Let’s use this act of hatred to justify our own hatred. Class!’ A much harder fit is James Howell. Howell was arrested by police with 3 assault rifles, ammunition and materials to make explosives in his car, and was on his way to LA Pride with, as he told police officers, the intention to harm people at Pride. Howell isn’t, as far as is known, a Muslim, nor did he plan to claim this in the name of Daesh/IS. He’s also a white man with no record of mental health problems. Like Mateen, Howell was well known to authorities, having been previously cautioned for threatening neighbours in Indiana with guns. One of the main reasons why this hasn’t gotten any airplay in the media, besides the obvious reason that he was caught before he could kill innocent people, is that there’s no way to present this story so it wasn’t targeting the LGBT*Q+ community, or that it was being carried out by ‘evil Muslims’.
The one thing I’ve really wanted to vocalise, but haven’t been able to really sum up, is how the events in Orlando are indicative of the ongoing struggles of two marginalised groups: LGBT*Q+ people and Muslims worldwide. While it’s purely anecdotal, or even just my own supposition, I can’t imagine a whole pile of straight cis men & women who thought twice about going out tonight. I know so many LGBT*Q+ who feared going out tonight, and we are on the other side of the world from Orlando & Los Angeles. If you’re not a member of the LGBT*Q+ community it’s hard to describe how important ‘safe spaces’ are. And before anyone cries ‘the youth of today relying on safe spaces, grow up! It’s political correctness gone mad grumble grumple’ what I mean by that, and most mean by that phrase, is a space where one can just be yourself, love who you want to love, hold your partners hand, identify how you want to identify without having to look over your should constantly: simply put, it’s a safe where you know you can be safe without even thinking. Now no safe is space, at least for a while. If it can happen in Orlando, it can happen in Cork. And while it seems easy to rationalise why it can’t happen in Cork (lack of guns, mainly), please tell me how rational it was that it happened in Orlando, or why it happened at all. While this fear will subside, all fear will not.
The other group gets the other end of the stick, and it’s often the hardest group to sympathise with at these times. While it seems like an obvious statement to make, reading some commentary on social (and traditional) media, I feel compelled to make it: not all Muslims are gay hating murderers. I know, I know, I’m a true revolutionary. As much as today hurt me, personally, as a member of the LGBT*Q+ community, it pained me much more to see the response to & treatment of my Muslim friends, brothers & colleagues, essentially at my expense. And only know, when I/my community was directly involved, did I fully feel the pain I can only assume these people face every time something like this happens. While not quite a sadist I sought out, for no real reason, Facebook comments sections on posts about the Orlando attacks. The first, and unsurprisingly last, page I went to was ‘The Niall Boylan Show’. I must admit that I haven’t listened to the show in ages, a choice I purposefully made for my own reasons, so I’m sure the commenters on Facebook don’t reflect the show in any way, but what I saw was comments like ‘I’d like the usual do gooders that comment on Muslim stuff to come on here and start defending Islam now. Come on. Where are ye’ and ‘Religion of peace strikes again.’ Even worse for me, people I follow on Twitter, artists I respected, said things like ‘if you’re doubting Islam’s stance on gay/trans rights — how many of you will volunteer to host a solo gay pride parade in the Middle East?’ And that’s when it really hit me, how badly affected Muslims must be after events like this (google the phrase Mealy Mouthed Reply’ for some insight) and how little we really talk about it.
The next few days will tell us a lot about what the media really thinks, or at least what they think people at-large care about. It’s crucial to watch how this story is talked about, how presenters phrase questions or points, how the story is framed, who they feel is to blame; people, myself included, utter this phrase seemingly every time a mass shooting happens, that we can’t let this happen again, and we really can’t, though it is admittedly out of the hands of the common man (at least directly). What we do have control over? What we can do? Look after our Muslim friends, don’t propagate or regurgitate this hate. Look after our LGBT*Q+ friends & peers. And look after yourself.