Monday, 13 June 2016

Je suis LGBT?

We are all no doubt absolutely horrified by recent events in Orlando.

Terrorist attacks of any kind are always sickening. It was terrifying to watch the 9/11 disaster unfolding on our TV screens, just as it was heartbreaking to hear of the shocking events in Paris bombings last November. At times like this, we generally come together in support of the victims, to stand in solidarity for peace and humanity over intolerance and hatred.

And the targeted killing of 50 people in an LGBT-friendly nightclub should be no different. At first glance, it isn't...but dig a little beneath the surface and not everything is what it seems.

Yes, we've had statement upon statement condemning the brutal attacks. Yes, we're all shocked and saddened. Yes, we're horrified at the mindlessness of it all. And our hearts go out to the victim's families at this sad time. 

But one thing is missing from many of these generally sensible statements - and that's an acknowledgement of who the victims are. Make no mistake - and no doubt we'll find out more about the killer's motivations in due course - those who died were deliberately targeted because of who they are. It matters that they were LGBT+ people, precisely because they were killed for being LGBT+ people.

I was at a church service last night at which this was openly acknlowledged. Candles were lit and prayers said, making explicit that this was a crime against a particular community. But, in general terms, this has been lacking in the tributes, condemnations and assorted other statements - not to mention the way the media has been framing its reporting. I don't always agree with Owen Jones, but he was absolutely right to walk off screen given the inability of Sky News to "get" this simple fact. 

It's not simply the media, however. People who should know better refuse to acknowledge that this was an assault on the LGBT+ community. Take for example this statement from Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, which was forwarded to me as a reporter for Scottish LGBT+ website, KaleidoScot:

“The news of the shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, the number of people killed and injured, is shocking in the extreme. My heart goes out to the families of everyone involved and also to the emergency services having to deal with such an appalling event. On behalf of the Church of Scotland let me offer my condolences to those left bereaved and assure our American sisters and brothers of our thoughts and prayers at this dreadful time.” 

That may seem reasonable but it points towards the Church's difficulty in accepting LGBT+ people.  What would be the messages LGBT people would take from a statement that entirely overlooks the fact that their community had been targeted? Where is the solidarity with us? 

I responded to the Church's statement, because I believe it needs to become better at standing against injustice. A few words expressing "shock" are not enough from the kind of people who should be standing on the frontline, side by side with the oppressed, calling out for social justice and standing against hatred and intolerance. My response is here, which I trust speaks for itself:

"Thank you for this statement, part of which we have used. 

"What is disappointing, however, is the glaring admission – there is no mention whatsoever that it was LGBT+ people who were attacked and killed, and that this was obviously an assault on the community as a whole. 

"It does matter who the victims are, especially when those victims have been intentionally targeted

"It is easy to focus on the crime rather than its target. But we cannot afford to overlook the fact that it was the LGBT+ community that was the focus of this brutal attack. The attack hurts the LGBT+ community because our brothers and sisters have been targeted precisely because of who they are. There can be no escaping the reality that it was a defined attack on a particular group, irrespective of what we may find out about his terrorist connections. 

"I write for an LGBT+ news website. The statement, sensible as it is, cannot be used in full because of how it may inevitably be interpreted by our community. We don’t simply need sensible words. We don’t just need “thoughts and prayers”. We need to feel accepted. We need to feel that the church is there to stand up against discrimination and intolerance. We need more than an expression of shock at all appalling event – we need to know that the church understands this is a hate crime and stands by the victims, rather than appearing conflicted in affirming our humanity. 

"At best your statement represents a missed opportunity...but for many in out community it would seem like a deliberate whitewash. Either way, for those of us in the LGBT+ community,  the omission reveals a failure to grasp the reaility that this was a homophobic hate crime of the worst kind. A statement in which emergency services are referred to but the targetted community is overlooked does llittle to provide reassurances to LGBT people, against whom we have witnessed a rise in reported hate crime even in Scotland. I hope in future that such statements will be able to stand in solidarity with clearly identifiable groups when they are so obviously being attacked for who they are." 

The Queen and David Cameron made similar short statements - again, utterly sensible but devoid of any reference to LGBT people. George Osborne did the same, although he did use the #Lovewins hashtag on his tweet. Fortunately, the Scottish government has allowed actions to speak louder than words in flying the rainbow flag from government buildings.

Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, many of us declared "Je suis Charlie". Of course, we weren't, but we found it easy, even helpful, to identify ourselves directly with the group of people who had so clearly been targetted. How then, little more than a year later, is it possible not to identify ourselves so openly with the innocent victims of the Orlando tragedy, whose only crime was to be LGBT? Why are we not declaring "Je suis LGBT"?

Respecting those who died means accepting why they died. No doubt the perpetrator of this horrendous crime against humanity may justify his intolerance with religous or political beliefs, but the bottom line is that is was a hate crime against LGBT+ people. Ignoring this basic fact is not only to deny reality, but to insult the community being victimised.

By all means condemn violence, attend vigils, call for peace and express shock. These are all normal reactions. But please also remember what this is about. Just as the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a deliberate and calculated assault on a specific group of people, so too was Orlando. Why then are so many keen to either deny or ignore this uncomfortable truth?

The best way to honour those who tragically lost their lives is to recognise the hate crime for what it was. The victims were not random, as they were in 9/11 or in the Paris bombings - they were deliberately selected because they were deemed to be "different"; because they refused to conform to the heteronormative stereotypes demanded by many within our society. "Fighting back" against this futile act of violence doesn't need to involve lengthy discussions about combating terrorism or discussion gun control (however significant they are as peripheral issues), but rather it requires a celebration of diversity, accepting those who are different and - as my Liberal Democrat membership card reads - "build[ing] a fair, free and open society in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

Mois, je suis LGBT. Et toi?


Mark M. said...

Mind if I snag that image for a Facebook Profile pic? I'll link to your article.

Andrew said...

No problem - go ahead!

Dwight Smith said...

May I also use your image? I saw It on Mark's Facebook page and want to use it likewise.

Andrew said...

Of course - I'm more than happy for anyone who indetifies with it to use it!

Noémie said...


I'd love to use this picture too. Unfortunately, facebook won't let me use it as a cover picture because it is not goog enough resolution (not enough pixels). Do you have a higher resolution of it? Did you create it? If so, I d be very thanksful if you could share.

Unfortunately, no other "I am LGBT" pictures available online though they were tones of I am "Charlie, Paris"..etc..

Maybe one needs more balls to say "I am gay".or I am LGBT..


Andrew said...

Hi Noémie,

Yes, I did create the image, based on the "Charlie" one that did the rounds last year.

If you click on the image above, it takes you to a larger image with a resolution of 1578 x 1052. That should be OK for facebook.

Any difficulties I can create a slightly larger version - but anything too big and blogger doesn't like it!

I think you're right - it takes a lot more to say "Je suis LGBT" than "Je suis Charlie". Which in one sense is utterly absurd. It does go to show how much progress remains to be made.

Andrew said...

Just tried posting the (larger) image on facebook myself and it works fine.

Noémie said...

Big thank you Andrew for creating it and allowing me to use it. And a bigger thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts and letter. ❤💛💚💙💜

David G. said...

Bravo Noemie, Bravo Andrew et al, "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all". Alas not my wise words, but JFK's

Anonymous said...

Bravo Andrew, Bravo Noemie et al, "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all". Alas, not my wise words but those of JFK. God bless you in your efforts to tackle the slavery of ignorance

Andrew said...

I received a response from the Church of Scotland today: "We were interested to read your thoughtful comments at this terrible time. Please be assured that we forwarded representations to the Moderator and discussed them within the communications team too."