A crime that is still being prosecuted: Orlando Nightclub Shooter’s Widow Is Denied Release On Bail.
I’ve written before about why this particular crime hit so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the anti-LGBT hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it.
And I’m not the only one: Call the Orlando shooting what it was: a homophobic hate crime, not ‘an attack on us all’.
I didn’t let myself write about the shooting on the 7th- or 8th-month’s mind1 date of the shooting because the lingering depression from election night made it too easy for me to leap into slathering rages over things. I had a very difficult time writing a post at the 6-month mark because of it. But there are reasons we shouldn’t forget: Gov. Rick Scott Honored Pulse But Never Mentioned LGBT People – Florida’s governor described the shooting as terrorism and never noted it targeted queer people.
I’ve gotten into the spiral of argument with some people that all hate crimes are crimes intended to cause terror, so it is technically correct to call it a terrorist act. And while that is true, it sidesteps the issue of just who was the crime intended to terrorize? We know that the gunman was targeting queer men. We know that because of all the angry outraged rants his family and colleagues have revealed during questioning. We know because he told his wife that he wanted to kill fags (she knew what he was planning, which is why she’s under arrest). We know because of the conversations he had on hookup apps where he would engage in conversation with gay men and ask which clubs were the hottest—where can he go to find the biggest crowds, the most popular places for gay men to have a good time?
He did not commit this crime to terrorize straight Americans. He was out to kill as many queer men as he could, and to put the fear of death into all queer people not to be out. That’s the point of this crime: to make queer people hide, go back into the closet, stop being out and open and unashamed of who we love. And if you don’t refer to this crime as an anti-queer or anti-gay or anti-LGBT crime, then you are doing exactly what the gunman wanted: you are erasing us from public life and discourse.
And if you get insistent and defensive about failing to mention that it was a anti-queer crime? That tells us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that on some level, you agree with the gunman.
That’s not me calling you a bigot. That’s you being a bigot.
If you don’t like to think of yourself as a bigot, then you need to do something about that. A really good first step is to admit that being uncomfortable denouncing a crime as an anti-queer/anti-gay/anti-lesbian/anti-LGBT/anti-trans crime is a symptom of some level of prejudice. Which you need to let go of. Start calling this shooting what it was: a hate crime aimed at the LGBT community.Yes, 49 people were killed in Orlando that night. 49 queer Americans were gunned down. 49 queer people who just wanted to be out and happy and not have to hide who they were instead were murdered. 49 queer people were murdered by a man who was outraged at the idea of two men kissing in public. Remember them. Don’t erase their identities. Don’t erase their killer’s anti-gay hatred. Don’t ignore the toxic homophobia the pervades American society and fed the gunman’s hatred. Don’t help the killer erase us. Don’t.
1. “Month’s mind” a practice in some traditions where family and friends gather about a month after someone’s death to celebrate that person’s life2.
2. Yes, I’m pedantic enough that I don’t like using the word “anniversary” to refer to periods of time of less than a year. I know people have been doing it verbally since at least the 1960s, and in writing since the 1980s, and I’m not normally a staunch prescriptionist regarding dictionary definitions, but this one still bugs me a little. Most of the terms that have been proposed to substitute (mensiversary, lunaversay, and uncianniversary) for this monthly commemorations strike me as silly. But knowing that there is an older, if obscure liturgical term, that I can pronounce it easily, I’m going to give it a try.
The school was far more regimented than either of the previous grade schools I had attended. There were rules and assigned times for everything. We were sent to the restroom at three specific times each day, for instance. And my new bullies singled me out for taunting and humiliation every single restroom break.
I didn’t want to explain what was happening. Previous incidents of being bullied by other kids had always resulted in my dad yelling at and beating me for being a pushover. When I attempted to stand up for myself as he’d said, I got in trouble at school, which resulted in more yelling and beating. So I couldn’t let my parents know what was happening in the bathroom. And I knew I couldn’t let the teachers know, because eventually they would inform my parents.
So I stopped going to the bathroom.
I convinced my mom to let me walk home for lunch instead of eating at the school cafeteria. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents, but I did. I used the restroom at home in the middle of the day. At school, when we were marched off at our appointed times midmorning and midafternoon, I would loiter outside the restroom until we were collected and taken out to recess. Since I was eating at home, I skipped the midday restroom trip. I changed my drinking habits. I stopped using the drinking fountain at school, because if I didn’t drink water I wouldn’t need to pee as often. And so on.
I managed to avoid going into the restroom at that school almost entirely for the rest of the time we lived in that town. I still got bullied on the playground, in the classroom, and so forth. But because teachers were always nearby, the kind of bullying that happened was slightly less horrible that what could happen when a bunch of the mean boys had you trapped in a room that the adults seemed to never enter.
When we moved to a tiny town in Wyoming next, I wasn’t able to avoid the restrooms. The town we moved to didn’t have a school, so we rode a bus to a town almost an hour’s drive away. I can still remember how scared I was at what would happen the first time I went into that school’s bathroom. That school was less regimented, so I as usually able to get by with only one trip per day, and I could time it so I wasn’t using the restroom when a lot of the other boys were. Similarly with the town back in Colorado but near the Kansas border that we moved to for the last part of my third grade. And the next town, and the next.
Even when I was in high school, I learned to avoid certain bathrooms and certain times of the day. Because yes, even in my teen years, there were guys ready and eager to demonstrate to the class faggots just how despised we were, and the boy’s restroom was a place that they could do so with impunity.
I’m not trans. I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of the trans community. But I am very familiar with that cold fear that strikes like a fist in the gut when walking into a public restroom and someone looks at you in a less than friendly way. I’m a grown ass man in my mid-fifties, and there are still moments of anxiety any time I am in a public restroom and there are other people in there with me. There are little checklists that part of my brain runs through. Am I behaving the way I’m supposed to? Is this person going to interpret something I do in the wrong way?
Heck, part of me still freaks out if a straight co-worker strikes up a conversation in the restroom at the office! Making eye contact or saying anything to the wrong guys was the surest way to get bullied when I was a kid, and it doesn’t matter how many years ago that was, the conditioned reflexes are still there—the surge of stress hormones and keying up of fight or flight response happens every time.
So these bills and court fights about where or whether trans people can use restrooms at school and other public accommodations strike close to home. I get really upset that people think keep portraying the queer people as the dangerous ones in public restrooms.
Everyone needs to eat, drink, breathe, and yes, people also need to pee from time to time. We have public restrooms for that. A number of places in our country have had laws and policies that explicitly allow people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with for many years, and there has never, not once, been an incident of a trans or otherwise queer person using those policies to assault anyone in a restroom. The only incidents of people going into a restroom to harass women have been straight anti-gay people doing it to try to make headlines in order to justify these bathroom bills or to yell at a woman who doesn’t want to sign their anti-trans petition.
This isn’t about privacy. It isn’t about protecting women or girls. It is about making it impossible for trans people to exist in public spaces at all. It is about punishing trans and gender non-conforming people. It is about giving bigots an excuse to harass queer people or anyone who seems maybe a little queer.
It boggles my mind that someone can claim to be a follower of Jesus while spewing such hate. I mean, seriously, being overjoyed at murder? Looking forward to committing murder with impunity yourself?
What boggles even more is that people who claim to believe in the man who said “love thy neighbor as you love thyself” will follow these hatemongers and proclaim them great faith leaders.
We have people like Bryan Fischer of American Family Radio saying things like ‘The Real Brownshirts Are In The Homosexual Movement’. That’s pretty rich coming from a guy who was removed from one of this jobs at the American Family Association because his anti-semitic and anti-muslim comments raised a bit of an uproar too close to a Republican fundraising event in 2015.
Then there’s Scott Lively Scott Lively: Trump Must Ban Gays From Intelligence Agencies Because They’re Conspiring Against Him. Lively is currently involved in a lawsuit for crimes against humanity (I kid you not), because he gave encouragement and material assistance to get Uganda to pass kill-the-gay laws. And that’s some of the least insane evil stuff he’s been involved in. But he’s the president of Abiding Truth Ministries, so he is, of course, hailed as a Christian leader.I’m not sure what has prompted Manning to turn on Trump again this week. There’s probably a new sermon up on his youtube channel explaining it, but I can’t deal with listening to any more of his hate and craziness. I have to admit that I kind of like the nickname “Tribulation Trump” for Donald. But I’m sure that Manning will flip-flop back to loving Donald again, he just needs to do something hateful enough that Manning recognizes him as a fellow devil, again.
There are even more poorly disguised devils in the news, of course. Yesterday a lot of people, particularly right-leaning news and blogging folks, were being shocked, shocked to learn that Milo Yiannopoulos has argued in favor of adults having sexual relationship with underage teen-agers. He has specifically insisted that this is not only good, but tried to claim that it is normal in the homosexual community. All of which is BS, but really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. It’s not as if he hasn’t said this sort of thing many times before. Nor is it at all inconsistent with his other attitudes.
So let’s unpack that a little. In the past, Milo has espoused a lot of undeniably racist opinions. He has orchestrated harassment campaigns against women, particularly women of color. He has encouraged violence against trans people. He has excused actual calls for genocide from some of his neo-nazi friends. He has advocated so-called “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” He has previously made sexual references to teen age boys. But it is only when he has specifically advocated for adult men having sexual relationships with 13-year-old boys that the Republican party, the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference, his fellow writers & editors at Breitbart, Bill Maher, and Simon & Schuster are objecting? In other words, all of those people and institutions are okay with racism, misogyny, transphobia, hate crimes, and genocide.
Let me repeat that: the Republican party, conservatives who organize CPAC, Breitbart writers & editors, Bill Maher, and the publishing house of Simon & Schuster don’t just turn a blind eye, they happily endorsed racism, misogyny, transphobia, hate crimes, and genocide. When people show you who they are you should believe them.
Also, it seems a lot of people are easily fooled by someone who says outrageous things when those outrageous things are attacks on people they dislike.
In other words, there are a lot of public figures and pseudo-celebrities and wannabe pundits out there who are advocating neo-Nazi opinions and neo-Nazi policies, but we aren’t allowed to call them Nazi. Because that’s rude. Or it’s hyperbole. Or something.
Never mind that these proponents of opinions and policies that exactly (sometimes word-for-word) repeat actual neo-Nazi publications and demands Have previously called any woman who objected to their sexist pronouncements “feminazis.” Or that any of us who called out their racist or misogynist or homophobic statements were called “PC-nazis.” And then if we objected to that, they would make arguments about why the word “nazi” isn’t actually an insult. When it’s used back at them, suddenly we’re the ones who have crossed a line.
Some of these guys have demanded apologies, and even gotten retractions from some publications, insisting that just because they have said things like “In response to concerns from white voters that they’re going to go extinct, the response of the Establishment—the conservative Establishment—has been to openly welcome that extinction” or “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact” or “some degree of separation between races is necessary for a culture to be preserved” that it is ridiculous to think that means they’re white nationalists or neo-nazis. We’re the bad guys for even suggesting such a thing! They aren’t bad guys for advocating forced deportment or relocation or so-called “peaceful ethnic cleansing3”
Milo Yiannopoulos, for instance, has called for at least the separation of people by race, ethnicity, and religion. He has also spouted various racist, misogynist, and transphobic beliefs. He has sent hordes of his internet followers to harass women with rape threats and racist attacks. He has said all sorts of awful and false things about trans people and has encouraged his fans to attack and harass them. And not just in general, he has handed out private address and contact information of specific trans people and suggested that someone should teach them some manners.
Yiannopoulos then defends himself by insisting that he’s simply stating an opinion. And besides, he’s gay, so how could he possibly be a bigot? Not only is he gay, but he’s white gay man who only has sex with black men, so he can’t possibly be racist (never might that racial fetishization is deeply entwined with racial hatred). And by the way, he doesn’t endorse all the white nationalist policies of a bunch of his friends (even though he frequently makes some of the same arguments they do), he just thinks they’re interesting people. So it’s wrong to call him a white nationalist or a neo-nazi of a nazi sympathizer.
He’s an editor of a news site which describes itself as the platform of the alt-right. The alt-right is a term coined by white supremacist Richard Spencer in order to make white supremacy seem more like just another political option4. He argues racial opinions of white nationalist are reasonable–not just that they have the right to hold the racist opinions, but that those statements are fact rather than opinion. He attacks people on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or gender identity. He defends not just the right of the neo-Nazis and white nationalist to hold their opinions, but he actively campaigns to write those opinions into law. One day those same white nationalists who currently enjoy having his support may well turn on him, just as the historical Nazis eventually rounded up their own gay members and executed or imprisoned them. But right now he’s a white nationalist and a nazi-apologist. That’s a fact.
Then there are the people who angrily argue that they aren’t defending neo-nazis or white supremacists just because they are telling people like me to shut up about them. Seriously. “You must let them advocate genocide without calling them on it” isn’t defending them? Of course, the most recent person to send me that message personally also slipped in two bigoted dog whistles5 before I blocked him
Then, of course, there are the free speech arguments. Okay, I’m an advocate for free speech. You have the right to your opinion, and you have the right to express it. But I, as a private citizen, am under no obligation to give you a platform. I am under no obligation to sit quietly and listen. I am certainly under no obligation to sit quietly and listen while you advocate policies that will cost me my job, my home, and my health care. I’m allowed to argue. I’m allowed to boycott. I’m allowed to call you a neo-nazi. I’m allowed to shun and shame people who enable your advocacy of hate.Disagreement is not censorship. Boycotting is not censorship. Shunning is not censorship. Calling you a bigot or similar is not censorship. Calling you an idiot is not censorship. Staging a protest when you come to my community to preach your hate is not censorship. Boycotting businesses that give you a platform to preach your hate is not censorship. Repeating word-for-word things you say (particularly if you go on TV or stand up on a stage to address supporters) is not censorship nor misrepresenting you. Pointing out which of your statements are factually wrong is not censorship. Even going so far as to call you a liar (particularly when it has been documented numerous times that you repeat false information again and again) is not censorship.
Free speech means you can express your opinions if you like. Free speech does not mean that those opinions have to be taken seriously, or treated reverently, or accepted without argument.
To circle back to the original point, if you:
- repeat neo-nazi and white supremacist slogans,
- advocate the same programs of racial, ethnic, religious, misogynist, and/or homophobic discrimination and oppression as neo-nazis and white supremacists,
- attack anyone who disagrees with neo-nazi and white supremacist proposals or hate speech,
- thank the avowed neo-nazis and white surpremacists when they repeat your words and deeds and hold you up as an example on their white supremacist video blogs, news sites, and/or conferences,
- are publicly and unapologetically friends with neo-nazis and white supremacists after they have repeatedly (often in your presence) called for the extermination of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity,
then you are a neo-nazi. And no one should apologize for calling you a bigot, a nazi, a white nationalist, a white supremacist, or a nazi sympathizer. Because you are all of those things. And that is a fact.
1. Godwin’s Law was first articulated by author and attorney Mike Godwin: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, if an argument goes on long enough, someone will eventually evoke the horrors of World War II, the Holocaust, et cetera. While it is phrased as if it were a law of mathematics, it’s really just an adage based on observation2. As Godwin himself has stated, it was intended as a tool to remind people not to resort to unnecessary hyperbole. He also wanted people to not trivialize the Holocaust. He has pointed out on several occassion that sometimes such comparisons are quite apt.
2. Godwin’s Law gets abused a lot. People have interpreted it to mean that if someone ever makes a comparison to Hitler, naziism, et cetera, that this immediately invalidates all of their arguments. Part of this comes from rules that were established on some Usenet groups in the 1990s by which if a thread reached the Hitler comparison, the thread would be ended. Note that this was a convention that some people chose to adopt. Godwin’s Law is not an actual law nor does it articulate anything that even approaches a logical fallacy.
3. This oxymoronic term is deployed frequently and unironically by actual neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer, the president of a literal white supremacist “think tank” among other things. He has also called for non-peaceful ethnic cleansing, for example: “humanity doesn’t need the Black man, and having concluded that, we must decide how efficiently to dispose of them.”
4. There some subjects upon which people can legitimately disagree. Details of tax policy, for instance. But when one side is literally calling for the mass murder of the other side (or mass incarceration, or denial of fundamental human rights), then we are no longer talking about a disagreement.
5. Dog-whistle: coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. For instance, in American politics the phrase “states’ rights” seems to be a mere reference to the Constitutions delineation of some powers and rights belonging the states (and other to the people or to the federal government), but signaled the politician’s commitment to segregation and institutionalized racism. “Real Americans” is frequently used to refer to conservative white Christians. Similarly, calls to “cut entitlements” are understood by the target audience to mean that “undeserving minorities” will be kicked off public assistance (when it fact it means that everyone will lose their benefits in order to funnel more tax money to the uber-rich and corporations).6
6. The dog-whistles in question in this particular exchange made it clear the guy arguing with me was both anti-semitic and homophobic. I thanked him for identifying himself just before blocking him.
It seems so reasonable. Simple. Just talk. Listen to their side. We always argue for tolerance, right? Listen to their side of things. Maybe we’ll learn something. And once they see we’re willing to listen, they can be persuaded to see things from our perspective.
Seriously, I’m a queer man in my late 50s. I grew up in tiny rural communities attending Southern Baptist Churches. You think I haven’t heard at least a billion times the perspective of the people who think religious freedom means a right to discriminate against me? You think I haven’t heard millions of times why queers don’t deserve civil rights protections? You think I haven’t heard millions of times how they perceive black people, brown people, people with accents, people who don’t attend the same churches as they do?
I have had no choice but to listen for decades!
You cannot talk someone who doesn’t think you’re their equal into accepting your right to autonomy. They may claim that they respect you. They may call you their friend. They may think of you as an exception to the truth they hold deep in their hearts about the inherent inequalities of different types of people. But the only thing that’s going to do is that you will be the person they trot out as proof that they aren’t prejudiced when someone else calls them on it. I know because it’s happened many times to me, personally.
Sure, when I’ve argued that queer people need to live their lives out and proud (if they can safely do so), I have cited the studies that show that actually knowing queer people makes other people more likely to support our rights. But it makes them more likely. It isn’t a magic formula that is guaranteed to change any specific person’s mind.
My evangelical upbringing is especially relevant to this particular argument. Despite making fun of a disabled person, talking about pussy-grabbing, and openly calling for violence against people who disagree, Donald got 80% of the evangelical vote. That’s better than George W. Bush every managed!
And those folks are absolutely convinced that they don’t hate anyone. They will angrily tell you just how much they love you in the same breath that they say that if your rights are protected, that will offend god so much that he will destroy America. They don’t see the contradiction between those statements. When it comes to things like women’s rights and racial issues, they just as emphatically insist that they aren’t bigots. They just know, because they think it’s in the Bible, that women are meant to be subservient to men, and that brown people are meant to be subservient to white people. If they aren’t quite willing to say that last part out loud, what they will fall back on is the separate but equal dodge on race, because god intended the races to be separate, they say.
It’s a weird theological argument: god wouldn’t have made you a woman, or a African-American, or Latino, or whatever, if you weren’t meant to fulfill certain roles in life. Maybe he sees inherent moral weaknesses in your soul. It isn’t at all logical, and most of them can’t articulate it beyond the notion that they believe it’s in the Bible. But that’s what you’re up against: god said it, god did it, god intends it. And no amount of talking or listening or being friends with people whose life experience belies that is going to shake their resolve. They may feel doubts. They may even confess to you that they realize you are a good person despite being in a category they have been taught is inherently not. But they will then shrug, say it’s god’s doing, and they’ll cheerfully vote for any candidate who affirms their ideas.
Even if that candidate also says a lot of things that completely contradict the teachings of their church. Because once they decide that a candidate is god’s choice, they can hand-wave everything away with the old “he works in mysterious ways.”
It’s an exhausting battle.
So, yes, be kind and civil. If you have the time and energy to attempt to be friends with someone, you can. But don’t kid yourself that doing so is more effective than calling your congressperson, or going to a protest, or joining a boycott, or going to town hall meetings, or donating to organizations that protect our rights. And please, don’t let the people in your life who think it’s okay to take away your rights think that you endorse those ideas.
Because you’re just empowering them to hurt others.
I’ve written before about why this particular crime hits so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either.
All of those things are still true. And with hate crimes on the rise since November 8, even more heart wrenching.
Please take to heart the words in the graphic I included at the top of this post: “Every time you let a homophobic or transphobic joke or slur pass, you tell the speaker that you condone their speech, and you help perpetuate a culture in which hatred of LGBTQIA people is acceptable and in which violence against LGBTQIA people is inevitable.” That’s not an exaggeration. If our very existence is nothing more than a joke, that implies our lives and deaths don’t matter. Those attacks and dismissals perpetuate the lie that we deserve pain and suffering. They perpetuate the lie that we shouldn’t exist. They perpetuate the lie that our love isn’t real.
And all of those lies add up to one message that some angry people are all too ready to take to heart: that beating us, shooting us, and killing us isn’t really a crime.
I was annoyed early on in the coverage of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting that news sites and individuals on social media all kept claiming that the hate crime was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. The first reason it annoyed me was because the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890 was much bigger. About 300 Lakota men, women, and children were shot to death that day. I understand why no politician alive today wants to acknowledge that. It was the U.S. Army that did the deed, and there is political hay to be made by insisting that it was a battle rather than a war crime, even now 126 years later.
Similarly, the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864 was also a lot bigger than the Orlando shooting: between 70-163 Cheyenne and Arapahoe men women and children were slaughtered. Again, modern politicians don’t want to talk about it, and certainly don’t want to admit it was a crime, rather than a battle.
That’s not the only thing about this horrific crime that brings out my pedantic tendencies. There has also been a lot of debate about whether this is an act of terrorism or a hate crime. As one friend put it: since the earliest reports that had virtually no details called the attack on a gay nightclub a possible terrorist attack, we knew that that shooter wasn’t white. That’s a not-facetious observation of the systemic racism of police officials everywhere, but there is another serious point, here. A lot of people outside the police want to transform this event into an act of terrorism against America, rather than recognize that the native born American man who decided to slaughter 50 queers in a queer club on a Saturday night during Pride month is a hate crime against the gay community.
As another friend pointed out, all hate crime is meant to terrorize. That’s true. That is the moral and legal justification given for even recognizing hate crime as a category of crime. The intent of the criminal isn’t just to harm the person or persons directly attacked, the intent is to frighten similar people. In this case, to put all queer people on notice that there are people out there who will gladly murder us just for being who we are. And literally for as long as humans have had laws (going back to ancient Sumeria at least!), we have always used the person’s intent as one of the ways to gauge the severity of the crime (cf. the only difference between murder in the second degree and not-guilty by reason of self-defense is the intent of the killer, nothing else).
Of course the politicians and so-called religious leaders who have been trying to deny queer people civil rights, objecting to our lives being even acknowledged, have said that we are immoral and dangerous, and so on want to erase us from this tragedy. They have many reasons for this. The most basic is that they just want to erase us, period, of course. But an even bigger reason they want to erase us is because they don’t want to admit that they have contributed to this crime. Every time they say that it is dangerous for kids to even see us, every time they say we are a danger to children just by being in a public restroom, every time they say that god is going to judge America for giving us some rights, every time they say queers are “ultimately destructive to society,” it encourages hatred and violence toward us.
Some religious leaders get it: Florida Catholic bishop: ‘It is religion, including our own,’ that targets LGBT people. And thank you, Bishop Lynch for at least admitting that. But what are you going to do about it?
Others are trying to focus on the shooter’s claims of doing this for the Islamic State. They conveniently want to overlook the fact that this young man was born in New York and grew up here in America. They ignore the fact that the leaders of ISIS long ago said anyone who wants to commit an act of terror in their name doesn’t need to ask permission, and that they will gladly take credit for anything that gets them in a headline, whether they actually had anything to do with it beforehand. This also, once again, conveniently elides over the fact that American evangelical fundamentalist Christians are no less hateful toward queers than radical fundamentalist muslim terrorists: Christian Pastor Celebrates Nightclub Massacre: “There’s 50 Less Pedophiles in This World”. The problem isn’t the Islam or Christianity per se, it is the fundamentalism that’s the problem. The extensive record of radical American Christians preaching hatred for queers is there for all to see.
The ingredients that cooked up this slaughter of 49 queer people are several, yes, but you can identify the big three:
- Demonizing of queers by politicians, religious leaders, and others
- Toxic masculinity
- Easy access to guns
We can do something about all of those things, even though it won’t be easy.
The first requires everyone who doesn’t think queers are evil to confront your elected officials and religious leaders and others during the rest of the year when they make their usual arguments about us. If you’re Christian, tell these other people that they do not speak for you. Make yourself heard. Yes, it means uncomfortably calling out friends and family, sometimes, but we’re not talking about a disagreement over sports teams, we’re talking about the life and death of real people.
The second one is big and complex, but not intractable. First, just let boys be. Speak up when you hear someone tell a boy that he can’t play with that toy because it’s a girls’ toy, for instance.
The last one is difficult to tackle because one particular lobbying group has managed to delude a sizeable fraction of the public into believing that the only thing any of us mean when we say we want to deal with that is a total ban on all guns. Yesterday I made an analogy between the way we used to say that drunk driving was just as impossible to do anything about as gun violence, and how we have since proven that assertion false. A big part of the change that happened in the drunk driving debate was that we allowed a national bureau to compile nation wide statistics on alcohol-related car accidents. So the very minimum that we should do (and there is no excuse not to) is to lift the legal ban on studying gun violence as a public health issue. Studying drunk driving led people to think of options that had never even been discussed before; options that worked. Let us study it, at the very least!
And let the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives use modern data tacking methods, for goodness sake! Give us the tools to try to figure out how guns fall out of the legal sales system. Maybe 90% of the population (and a bigger percentage of the experts) are wrong that closing the gun show loophole and a couple of other measures that my NRA friends get foaming at the mouth over. The truth is that you don’t know we’re wrong, and can’t prove we’re wrong because you’ve made it illegal to study and compile the statistics. Maybe a measure like the Texas law that penalizes people for not promptly reporting the theft of a gun will deter illegal gun trafficking, maybe it won’t. We can’t know until we’re allowed to study it.
And I’m sorry, I don’t often invoke Ronald Reagan, but sometimes he was right: “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” Since this post started out about being pedantic, his terminology was a bit off, but Reagan believed then, and at least 58% of Americans agree with him now, that assault weapons should be banned outright, just as we already ban bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, and mines. If a civilization requires everyone to be armed and constantly prepared to kill other people, that isn’t civilization.
I’ve ranted enough today. This isn’t just about problems and solutions. This is a human disaster, and real humans died, and many more real humans are hurt and in fear. If we forget that, we stop being human: CNN’s Anderson Cooper Fights Back Tears Reading Orlando Victim Names.
It’s just a mess:
So Mike Hubbard, the self-proclaimed architect of the GOP takeover of the Statehouse, the consensus most powerful man in Alabama politics, the standout with his hand out, was convicted on 12 of 23 counts of using his office to fatten his own substantial wallet… Gov. Robert Bentley is hip-deep in his own sorta-sex scandal, facing the threat of impeachment and federal investigation. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore may get gaveled out of office for the second time, because his idea of “ethics” is disobeying the law…
—John Archibald, writing for AL.com
See, the governor has been in trouble for a while because of a sex scandal that involved misappropriation of fund. He’s a very anti-gay, pro-family, moralizing scold who was having an affair with a married staff member. Before proof of the affair surfaced (in the form of recordings of very family unfriendly phone call), he was already under investigation for doing things like using a state-owned jet to fly the staffer and himself to Las Vegas to attend a Celine Dion concert, among other questionable uses of public funds and resources. The staffer with whom he had the affair was given salary increases that raised eyebrows even before rumors of the affair surfaced. In a separate issue, the husband of the staffer, who is also a state employee, received a very large raise in a year when no one else in the entire agency he worked at received even a token increase in salary. That’s only scratching the surface on the governor. I’ll come back to him.
Then there is the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, Roy Moore. Moore has been suspended from the bench pending an ethics investigation over orders he wrote instructing judges in the state not to obey the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which made marriage equality the law of the land. Moore was previously removed from office over his refusal to remove a gargantuan granite Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse (in addition to insisting on starting court sessions with a prayer and other activities). Alabama voters returned him to office when he ran for election again the next time he could. If he is removed again, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Alabamians don’t re-elect him yet again.
There are several other problems. The Lt Governor, Kay Ivey, former state Treasurer, has been dogged by questions about why the state’s pre-paid college tuition program suffered a loss of $408million in value under her watch. There are, therefore, people worried about whether she is up to the job of filling the governor’s job if he does resign or is impeached. The threat of impeachment had been held at bay for a long time by the Speaker of the House, but it was also hampered by those worries about the Lt. Governor.
The governor also has managed to force some members of state law enforcement out of their jobs to delay and complicate the investigation into the allegations against the him. Oh, and that recording of a sexy phone call between the governor and the staff member? It wasn’t because law enforcement was tapping his phone. No, the governor’s wife had long suspected her husband was having an affair, and she left started secretly recording him to get proof!
One of my favorite odd details of this whole mess, if you see any news stories list the governor’s name this way: “Governor Doctor Dr. Robert Bentley” the second use of doctor isn’t a typo. Back in 2010, because he was running with the campaign slogan, “Alabama’s economy needs a doctor,” Bentley tried to get his medical title (he’s a dermatologist) on the primary ballot, but Republican party rules forbade nicknames, and they said that also mean titles, even if they were legitimately earned. So Bentley went to court and had is name legally changed to “Dr. Robert Bentley.” Some of his opponents made some very funny comments about what kind of person legally changes their name to look better on a ballot, and he then legally changed his name back to “Robert Julian Bentley,” but a lot of Alabama pundits like to remind voters of the temporary name change by using the longer title.
The legislature is so corrupt, and corruption has been a way of life in Alabama politics for so long, that no one knows what’s going to happen next. Maybe Ambrosia Starling, the drag queen who emerged as one of the most articulate and unflagging criticism of Judge Roy Moore is available to fill one of those vacant offices: Ambrosia Starling on Roy Moore: ‘It takes a drag queen to remind you liberty, justice is for all’.
This twist is neither fresh, clever, nor amazing. The most polite way to describe it would be as click-bait. And as Jessica Plummer pointed out in a post on Panels.Net (ON STEVE ROGERS #1, ANTISEMITISM, AND PUBLICITY STUNTS), it’s not just ordinary click-bait, it’s using the deaths of the 11 million victims of the Nazi Holocaust as click-bait, which means that it is a bigoted publicity stunt, at that.
I’m not saying that the writers intentionally set out the make an anti-semitic (not to mention homophobic and white supremacist) statement. What I’m talking about is the thoughtless bigotry of people who don’t recognize their own privilege nor the inherent unconscious bigotry that permeates our culture at large. The only people who think that someone who is admired as a hero being revealed to actually be a villain is a surprise are people who have never personally experience systemic prejudice. As Sashayed pointed out in a blog post a few days ago:
There is a particular kind of shock that comes with discovering that someone you care about holds a belief or set of beliefs that is dehumanizing to you personally, if not actually – LOL!! – inimical to your existence. Many if not most women have suffered and weathered this shock. Many people of color have. Many LGBT people have. Relevantly to this specific discussion, MANY Jewish people have. It is not Shocking to anyone in an unprivileged cultural position that someone you like, someone you care about, someone who is a “hero,” even someone you thought cared about YOU, can be revealed to have been metaphorically Working Against You All Along. Nobody thinks it’s fucking SURPRISING that you CAN’T TRUST ANYBODY to be on your side! Of course you can’t! You just adjust to that and try to get through your life in spite of it. No shit, white dudes.
From my own personal experience, I would amend “Many LGBT people have” to “nearly every single LGBT person ever.” As Solarbird commented, elaborating on Sashayed’s observations:
One of my experiences along this line was a friend who had been arguing emphatically on a particular public forum for a law that would “quarantine” all gay men in “medical camps” (this was back in the late 90s or early 00s); when other people pointed out she was being homophobic, she actually named me as one of her gay friends whose existence proved that she wasn’t a bigot! She didn’t hate me, she just firmly believed that every single gay, lesbian, and bisexual person was deeply and incurably mentally ill, and that we needed to be locked up for our own good. But she wasn’t a bigot.
I’ve had three people – three people – that I thought were various degrees of friend start posting things from anti-queer groups just this spring. This “ha ha really evil” thing is fucking routine. One of them was even one of the tiny, tiny number of Christians I’ve always brought up to myself whenever I’ve tried to tell myself, “they’re not all like this, they’re not all like this, remember, there’s X and Y and Z” and SURPRISE! X IS TOTALLY WILLING TO POST ANTI-QUEER MEMES AND DEFEND THAT! so I’ve just been through this again recently.
Hell, I’ve been through this so many times it almost – almost – doesn’t even faze me anymore. (Well, okay, X did, and I have now learned that lesson.) It’s more a matter of, “okay, move this one to “Surprise Explicit Enemy” category, and two more to add to the absolutely do not trust list.“
If you’re queer in this society, you have to keep lists like that, you see. It sucks.
So yeah, this is not new to my life, and more of it is the opposite of shocking. It’s more just…
…one more goddamned disappointment. Of which I have had enough.
Or the many times my aunt who regularly posts articles and memes and so forth saying that god is going to destroy america because of marriage equality or queer rights or trans people using public bathrooms, and then sends disappointed messages wondering why I and my husband don’t visit more often. And how can I say she’s bigoted? She loves me and all of her gay and lesbian friends, and has said so many times.
So, yes, don’t color me surprised by this shocking and tone-deaf development.
And there’s more. I reblogged some observations on Tumblr that it is very telling that the producers of Captain America are quite willing to make him a Nazi or Hydra double agent, but remain adamant that the character couldn’t possibly be bisexual. Equally telling is that the same fanboys who come out in angry droves when someone posts fan art or fic that depicts Cap as bisexual, have remained completely silent at this revelation that Cap has been secretly a Nazi all along. Someone felt the need to admonish me about that, because “making this about queer representation is dismissive of the persecution of Jewish people.”
No. No it is not. First of all, we can be upset about more than one aspect of an egregiously bad storytelling decision. We can point out that it is both anti-semitic and racist towards various people of color. We can point out that a situation is anti-semitic, racist, homophobic, and sexist all at the same time. Mentioning one or more of the problematic aspects doesn’t erase or diminish any of the others.
Furthermore, reducing a comment about homophobia (and the linkage between it and other bigotry) to the phrase “representation” is a form of erasure. It’s playing oppression olympics, saying that one group is more oppressed than another. It’s saying we can’t talk about homophobia until all other “more important” issues have been utterly solved.
And that’s pure B.S.
Besides, I hate to have to be the one to point this out, dear anonymous Tumblr commenter, but those 11 million victims of the Nazis you mentioned? That included between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men. In fact, homosexuals were among the very first groups targeted for internment in the camps by the Nazis in 1933. Even worse, when the allies liberated the camps, while prisoners who had been locked up because they were Jewish or Roma or biracial and so forth were set free? The homos were transferred to regular prisons.
The death toll of the Nazi camps also included nearly a quarter million Roma (who were targeted as an ethnic group), tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the denomination was identified as an enemy of the Aryan race relatively early because of its public resistance to the racist policies of the Nazis), biracial people, and pretty much every ethnic group the Nazis didn’t consider Aryan. They also locked up a lot of white folks for the horrific crime of being married to someone that wasn’t Aryan, having had children with someone who wasn’t Aryan, and so on. This gets to the real reason I made the link between the refusal to consider that Steve Rogers might be bi and anti-semitism:
The bigotries tend to go hand in hand. If someone is homophobic, that’s a very good indicator they are also sympathetic to misogynist ideas, racist notions, and yes, anti-semitic assumptions, too. If supposedly heroic people being bigots comes of no surprise to many of us, the fact that people who are homophobic are bigoted toward a lot of other groups should come as even less of a surprise.
I understand this is a comic book, and that comics have a long tradition of rescinding storylines or retroactively changing continuity whether it be telling us in a few issues it was all a clever plot to trick some of the bad guys, or that it is really a Skrull shapeshifter pretending to be Captain America, or some other hand-waving. If that’s what they had in mind all along, that makes it even more of a cheap trick. It’s a publicity stunt that tramples on the history of a character that was created by two Jewish men: Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon) and Jack Kirby (birth name Jacob Kurtzberg) explicitly as not merely an anti-Nazi symbol, but as the embodiment of what they thought were some of the most noble aspirations of the human heart.
I’m not saying the writers don’t have a right to tell this story. I’m not arguing for censorship. I’m simply pointing out what it was a bad choice. I’ve tried to explain why it isn’t a clever or creative plot twist, but rather a dickish stunt. It’s disrespectful of the audience. It is using the horrible murders of 11,000,000 humans as clickbait. And it is a bad choice artistically. As Pablo Picasso said:
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
This is trampling the hopes of some people in the dust of mockery in order to try to make yourself look clever. That isn’t art at all.
Every year on December 1st, because it is World AIDS Day, I post a list of names. They are the names of people I knew personally who died from complications of AIDS. Those names are: Frank, Mike, Tim, David, Todd, Chet, Jim, Steve, Brian, Rick, Stacy, Phil, Mark, Michael, Jerry, Walt, Charles, Thomas, Mike, Richard, Bob, Mikey, James, Lisa, Todd, Kerry, Glen, and Jack.
Let me be clear, that isn’t every single person I knew who died from the disease. Those are only the ones I knew well enough that I cry when I type their name. Yes, I’m crying now. I have been alternating between crying and shaking with rage since reading that Hilary Clinton said, “The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start ‘a national conversation’ about HIV and AIDS.” And then went on to describe her as an advocate for AIDS research!
I get it. Nancy Reagan just died, and Hilary’s a politician on a national stage and is expected only to say nice things about the recently deceased. Fine. Compliment Mrs Reagan on bucking the rest of the Republican establishment and coming out in favor of stem-cell research. Never mind that it was for selfish reasons, at least it was for a worthy goal. But the Reagans absolutely did not open a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. We in the queer community had been shouting, begging the powers that be to do something, anything about it for five years (while tens of thousands in the U.S. were infected, and thousands died) before President Reagan actually mentioned the name of the disease in public. It took another two years before he referred to it as a health crisis—and don’t forget that Reagan recommended a $10-million cut in AIDS research spending the same year that the U.S. death toll reached 5,500.
When the Reagans’s close friend, Rock Hudson, was dying of the disease, trying to get into a hospital in Paris to try an experimental treatment, Nancy, after receiving a desperate telegram asking for her help, wouldn’t even authorize a staff member to call the hospital on her behalf to ask if they might let Hudson (who wasn’t a French citizen, of course) in.
Listen to this recording of a Whitehouse press briefing when a reporter asks about the Whitehouse’s reaction to a Center for Disease Control bulletin about A-I-D-S, “also called the gay cancer” officially labelling it an epidemic:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
You almost can’t hear the reporter ask, “In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?” because everyone keeps laughing.
As I mentioned above, that list I post every year consists only of the people I knew well enough that I still cry thinking about them decades later. Through the early nineties, my late husband and I went to more funerals and memorial services than I can count. Many of them were people he had known before we met. Some of them were friends, lovers, or relatives of people one or the other of us knew, but we hadn’t been particularly close to the deceased ourselves. We went to the services to support the people who were mourning the death. We went to the services because sometimes the deceased’s own families wouldn’t attend. Sometimes we held services separate from the family’s because the partner/lover/life-long companion was barred from the official funeral by the family.
There was more than one time that we had to choose which memorial service to go to, because more than one was happening at the same time, and too far apart for us to attend a part of both. So many people were dying, we had to choose who not to comfort, because at the point when research and medical intervention could have limited the spread of the disease, people at the Whitehouse had been laughing at our suffering and dying.
And then to have Clinton, who has tried to portray herself as an ally of the queer community, praise Nancy for being an advocate for AIDS research? That’s when I lost it.
I was deeply closeted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I had only a very small number of sexual encounters with other men during the time when so many were getting infected with the virus that no one knew existed. Even with that limited exposure, it is shear luck that I’m alive to bear witness to those years. Even though I wasn’t out, once the illness had been identified, I was keenly aware of how ordinary Americans perceived it. One of the most chilling moments for me came while sitting in a pew of a church in 1984. Our heads were all bowed in prayer, and the visiting pastor leading the prayer actually thanked god for the “plague of AIDS which you have sent to exterminate the homosexuals.”
Reading Clinton’s comments took me back to that moment. People like Nancy Reagan were not having a conversation about how to save people from AIDS, nor were they advocating for research for a cure. People like Nancy Reagan were thanking god for our suffering.
Never mind that Jesus commanded his followers to take care of the sick. He didn’t say to care for the sick that we deemed worthy. He didn’t say to care for the sick that lived a specific lifestyle. He specifically said to care for the sick, and people in prisons, and other outcasts of society. He said that the way you treated those outcasts was how you treated him. And he said that anyone who came to him on the day of judgment and had not cared for the sick, prisoners, outcasts, and the other “least of these” would be cast out of heaven and into the eternal fire; because they were not following his commandment.
But we’re not supposed to say anything like that about a famous person who has died. Even if she refused to raise a finger to help one dying friend get medical treatment. And apparently especially if she helped impede access to treatment for hundreds of thousands of people who were sick and dying. We’re apparently supposed to lie and say that she helped the very people whose blood is on her hands.