We in the LGBT community have been overwhelmed this week with not only dealing with our own emotions of what occurred in Orlando, but the outpouring of support from our friends and the amazing public expressions around the world. Like almost everyone, we have many questions, some of which may one day be answered. But if you’re like me, there’s one question that stands out and it’s one that we in the LGBT community will be discussing for some time.
Was the shooter gay? Does it matter?
We start at those questions already agreeing that, regardless of the answers, this was a heinous crime of terror … period. This was an act committed by one American against others. If you look at the names of the victims, something stands out: The majority of them were Latino, which begs more questions. Was the killer singling out the Latino community, or was he singling out the LGBT Latino community? And how does that affect that singular question of, Was he gay?
To me, an answer to that one question might answer many others.
Since the beginning of the struggle for LGBT equality, the number-one opponent has been institutionalized religion — whether it be from Christian, Jewish or Muslim circles, yet it all came from the extremist segments of their particular faiths. Some of these extremists have gone as far as pushing for “death to homosexuals” legislation in Uganda (and yes, that was a creation of Evangelical Christians based here in the United States). Then there have been the Orthodox Jews in Israel and Brooklyn who have been known to beat or spit on LGBT Jews; I know the effect of that personally. Then there have been the extremist Muslims who toss gay men off roofs, hang them, given them lashes or imprison them.
The key here is religious extremism — not any one religion. What does that do to young people? They grow up in houses where they hear their father make homophobic slurs and then go to church, temple or mosque and hear it again. The religious community they belong to demonizes LGBT people and yet these young people sit there knowing who they are and having to hear this day after day. If that person is even just slightly unstable, that’s a recipe for tragedy.
Now I can preach about this issue and make people aware, but the ones who can really change are religious institutions. As the saying goes, change comes from within, and it must start at the top. Leaders of the various LGBT religious organizations are working to do just that and they need support from the entire LGBT community. Think of the bravery of the gay imams who spoke out this week. They are heroes. The LGBT Catholics who are fighting to be a part of the church … heroes. The Jews who march in defiance in Tel Aviv … heroes.
Remember, those LGBT children growing up in those homes need to hear something other than hate. LGBT members of their religious communities are giving them a lifeline. That is real religious freedom — freedom from religious oppression.