Orlando shootout: We must all be ashamed

Last Updated: Sat, Jun 18, 2016 10:31 hrs

For days, I have not been able to think about anything other than the fact that 49 people were killed by a bigot with a gun in a club. I have not been able to watch the television news; I’ve shied away from images of the destruction and grief. The only article to which I have returned obsessively is one that contains pictures of all the victims, taken from social media. I cannot get their faces out of my head.

I have wondered why the attack has affected me in such a personal way. Yes, I identify as an LGBTQ ally. I have been to gay bars frequently on my travels, on nights when I wanted to hang out with friends and have a great time, on nights when I didn’t want to deal with chatter-uppers. But my reaction to the shootout was about more than my personal safety, or the safety of many of my loved ones, who could be the next targets of bigots like Omar Mateen, bigots who enter clubs like Pulse with guns.

This act feels like an attack on joy, on love, on choice, on celebration, on the right to live.

The photos of the victims in happier times haunt me because they embody moments in which they were embracing life, joy, love, and celebration. They were the faces of smiling young men, so many of whom remind me of friends who have faced prejudice for being themselves and yet persisted in being themselves, learning to ignore jibes at their threaded eyebrows and choice of clothes.

People with non-mainstream sexual identities and sexual orientations have to fight battles on various fronts – against families who believe they are in the wrong, against strangers who mock or deride or despise them, against certain members of the LGBT community itself who rage against others for not “coming out”.

All that struggle through adolescence, only to be killed by a terrorist while on a fun night out.

I find myself angry at everyone.

I am angry at the man who stormed into Pulse and opened fire on people who believed they were safe, on people whose guard was completely down.

I am angry at his father, who says he wishes his son hadn’t punished homosexuals because it was up to god to punish them – I am angry at him because he raised his son with a ideology that believes god punishes gay people.

I am angry at the people who are using this as an opportunity to gloat over the United States’ gun laws. Yes, it is awful that someone can legally buy a gun, have dinner, and then go on a shooting spree. But it happens across the world, in places with stricter gun laws. India has no right to gloat, because people are bludgeoned, raped, molested, stabbed, and imprisoned for being who they are. You don’t need guns when you believe you have the right to take a life.

I am angry at the Islamic apologists whose first instinct was to go on the defensive and tweet about how Islam doesn’t condone murder. Does Islam condone homosexuality, I want to ask. Does any Abrahamic religion condone homosexuality? The ancient religions, Hinduism included, had instances in folklore of fluid gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation; but Hinduism in India has been appropriated by bigots who are just as bad as their counterparts in Islam. Don’t tell me that your religion does not condone murder when murders are carried out in its name. Don’t ask me to sympathise with you because you may become a victim of

Islamophobia. There is a reason to fear Islam. There is a reason to fear Christianity and Judaism. There is a reason to fear the Hindutva brand of Hinduism. There is a reason to fear any religion that says punishment awaits those who fall in love.

I am angry at the politicians who have taken to Twitter and Facebook and released speeches and messages to mourn the victims of the shootout, when their own countries don’t legitimise same-sex relationships. I am enraged by Narendra Modi’s tweet about his “thoughts and prayers” being with the families of the Orlando victims, because he belongs to a party whose members and affiliates attack people in nightclubs, attack couples on Valentine’s Day, and are vocal about the “unnatural”-ness of homosexuality.

I am angry at the people who wonder whether the attack would have been called an act of “terrorism” if the gunman had been white and/or non-Muslim.

There is something horribly wrong with a world in which people ponder the semantics of a label when 49 lives have just been claimed by the labelled.

There is something horribly wrong with a world that legitimises the laws of gods and men that criminalise any sexual orientation or expression.

There is something horribly wrong with a world that allows people to gain political capital from a tragedy.

All of humanity should be ashamed not just by what happened in Pulse, but also by what followed.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.