was all set to write a nice light little piece about dealing with the bureaucratic entanglements that have arisen since Italy’s decision to legalize some forms of same-sex couples. But then Orlando happened. After that, anything I tried writing sounded banal and trite.
I am not a journalist. I have nothing new to add to the weeks of coverage. I read the names of the 49 victims on the web. They are as much strangers to me as they probably are to you. I’ve never been to that gay bar in Orlando. Yet at the same time I can’t stop thinking about the victims and the senseless act of violence that cut short their lives and their chances to love and to be loved.
In trying to understand what happened from press coverage, politicians, and spin-doctors, an old but deadly concept has reemerged — the extent to which implicit religious consent for intolerance and violence leads to victims.
According to media reports, the killer grew up in the United States and was raised Muslim. He was apparently acting of his own volition and not on the instructions of any evil extremist commander. In fact, he could have been raised in any number of religions and the outcome might have been the same. And that’s what makes the problem all the more insidious and pervasive.
Many first-generation Muslims come to the U.S. to escape dire situations in their home countries, hoping for a new life in which they can find something resembling peace. A few, however, will continue to perpetuate violence using religion as a justification. As both the 2005 London attacks and Orlando show, this culture of homegrown aggression can be passed down by generation, with religion as a vehicle.
After Orlando, many religious groups and leaders issued condolences and distanced themselves as much as possible from taking any responsibility for the mass slaying. There were also those who, predictably, offered condolences but used the occasion to reiterate their loathing toward all LGBT people. A smaller contingent, notwithstanding long-held and extreme anti-LGBT views, produced messages of sadness and solidarity. While some in this group may have undergone a genuine change of heart, others were simply looking to exploit the tragedy to further already entrenched anti-Muslim agendas. I mention no names intentionally. I refuse to give two-faced individuals even more publicity (you probably already know who most of them are.)
As for the 200 or so Muslims who publically prayed for the victims, I’m sure they were expressing sincere regret and remorse. No doubt they were also concerned about the public image of Muslims in the U.S. and eager to ward off repercussions and reprisals.
Obviously an emotionally and mentally healthy young man does not buy an assault weapon, go into a bar and kill scores of innocent strangers. To attribute this tragedy to the Muslim community, the vast majority of who are sane and peace-loving, is ridiculous.
There is however a direct link between religion and the reality that the victims were LGBT. I have criticized the Vatican for teaching, preaching and perpetuating anti-LGBT prejudice while refusing to take responsibility for potential effect of its incendiary words. Those words give implicit consent to every unbalanced individual who might seek to commit acts of violence against us. Just look at schoolyard bullying, street muggings and sexual violence, and the list goes on. How many religious figures in mosques, churches, and synagogues openly preach tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people? Obviously not enough. Whether religious leaders are Christian, Muslim or Jew, they all too often deliver the explicit message that LGBT people are sinners and will face divine judgment. So long as religious groups continue sending such a message they will be furthering implicit religious consent — the consent to hate. That consent makes them at least partly responsible for the awful events that too often follows on its heels.
Orlando goes down in the books as the worst mass shooting in the U.S. history. But it was also a hate crime specifically directed at LGBT people.
In broader terms, the shooting is only a small sample of the genocide-like persecution LGBT people face globally, particularly in the Muslim world. That persecution includes sexual assault, honor killing, legal execution, public stoning and defenestration.
Many friends and relatives of the Orlando victims wanted to gather with their own friends and lovers and grieve through dancing. But for LGBT people even this simple act of self-expression is all too often in conflict with someone else’s religious beliefs.
Orlando is a strong reminder that every time a LGBT person goes out in public they risk their lives. Perhaps they understand better than most Americans that in land of the brave and the free it takes a lot of bravery just to be free.