Orlando shooting: It’s different now, but Muslims have a long history of accepting homosexuality

Orlando shooting: It’s different now, but Muslims have a long history of accepting homosexuality
Muslim societies have ignored their own history of accepting homosexuality, latching on to a twisted colonial legacy instead.
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Mateen had boasted of links to the Islamic State, Islamic State as well as Hezbollah. While all three groups are well-known West Asian insurgents, they are also at war with one another and represent widely differing theological views. US investigators said that Mateen did not seem to understand the distinction between the groups – a point that makes it difficult to square with the charge of Islamist terror that was considered in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Mateen was killed by the police on Sunday after he opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, in a tragedy that was among the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

The 29-year-old was reportedly a regular at Pulse and even used a gay dating app. Reports of him having asked men out have surfaced over the last few days, with his ex-wife claiming she believed he was gay. She also said that Mateen’s father, an immigrant from Afghanistan, had mocked him for his sexual orientation. One of the first statements made by Mateen’s father after the shooting was, in fact, that homosexuals can be punished by God.

Stigmatising homosexuality

Could the attack, then, have been driven by Mateen’s sexual orientation and the shame associated with homosexuality amongst Muslims today – rather than Islamist terror? “Transgressive sexuality and conservative religion can be a toxic mix,” writes David Shariatmadari in the Guardian. “If Mateen felt conflicted about his interest in gay men, it could have been because he believed his faith would condemn him for it”.

While a clear motive is yet to be established, it is a fact that modern Muslim societies condemn and shame homosexuality. In most Islamic countries, Muslims cannot come out as gay without risking stigma and bodily harm.

It is, however, important to point out how recent this homophobia is. For much of history, Muslim societies have been incredibly permissive of same-sex love.

Golden Age

At the height of the Islamic Golden Age – a period from the mid-8th century to the mid-13th century when Islamic civilisation is believed to have reached its intellectual and cultural zenith – homosexuality was openly spoken and written about. Abu Nuwas (756-814), one of the great Arab classical poets during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, wrote publicly about his homosexual desires and relations. His homoerotic poetry was openly circulated right up until the 20th century.

Nuwas was an important historical figure – he even made a couple of appearances in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (known in Urdu as Alif Laila). It was only as late as 2001 that Arabs started to blush at Nuwas’ homoerotism. In 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists, burnt 6,000 volumes of his poetry.

Most modern Muslims, therefore, have little knowledge of what the Islamic Golden Age was really about, even though they keep on wanting to go back to it.

“ISIS have no idea what restoring the Caliphate actually means,” a tweet by Belgian-Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab said. “In Baghdad, it’d involve booze, odes to wine, science… and a gay court poet.”

Baghdad was, till the time the Mongols invaded and destroyed it, the cultural capital of much of the world – the New York City of its time. If Nuwas and his homoerotic poetry could represent the height of Baghdadi culture, it is natural that other Muslim societies would also be quite open to homosexuality. As historian Saleem Kidwai puts in the fabulous book Same-Sex Love in India, “Homoerotically inclined men are continuously visible in Muslim medieval histories and are generally described without pejorative comment.”

Writing on same-sex love

In fact, far from being pejorative, Muslim societies once openly spoke of same-sex love, even celebrating it at times. Mahmud of Ghazni, a towering sultan of his time (971-1030), was actually held up as an ideal for, among other things, deeply loving another man, Malik Ayaz.

Mughal Emperor Babur wrote of his attraction to a boy in the camp bazaar in his 16th-century autobiography – a celebrated work of literature in the medieval Muslim world.

In the 18th century, Dargah Quli Khan, a nobleman from the Deccan travelling to Delhi, wrote a fascinating account of the city called the Muraqqa-e-Dehli (The Delhi Album), which described just how mundane homosexuality was in Indo-Islamic society. At the public bazaars, male prostitutes solicited openly and Khan spoke admiringly of how “young good-looking men danced everywhere and created great excitement”.

Till the 19th century, Muslims treated homosexuality as a part and parcel of life, so much so that students were exposed to romantic stories of homosexual love – a position untenable even today across parts of the Western word. Kidwai writes:

Sadi’s classic Gulistan, containing stories of attraction between men, was considered essential reading for Persian students. Ghanimat’s Nau rang-i ishq, a seventeenth century masnavi describing the love affair between the poet’s patron’s son and his beloved Shahid, was a prescribed text in schools.

Islamic law

Of course, theologically, Islam did consider homosexuality to be sinful, based on the Quranic story of the people of Lut (Lot in the Bible). Interestingly, though, the Shariat, the umbrella term for the various legal codes and schools governing Muslim societies, have no punishment for homosexualty per se – sexual relations between men are outlawed under the larger rubric of adultery. Even then, convictions for homosexuality could only be carried out if the sexual act was testified to by four eye witnesses. This was such a high bar that commentators on Islam such as Hamza Yusuf have characterised the outlawing of homosexuality in the Shariat as a sort of “legal fiction”. Indeed, unlike medieval Europe, instances of homosexuals being punished are rare in medieval Muslim societies.

So what caused Muslim societies to go from coolly reading homoerotic poetry to outlawing and stigmatising same-sex love? It’s tough to nail down an exact reason but here’s an interesting coincidence: there are five Muslims countries where being gay isn’t a crime. All that the five – Mali, Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey and Albania – share in common is that they were never colonised by the British.

Colonial influence

In 1858, in fact, the Ottoman Empire decriminalised homosexuality (a status inherited by Turkey). This was two years before the British Raj created the Indian Penal Code, Section 377 of which proceeded to outlaw homosexuality in modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

So deep was the influence of the 1860 penal code in India that conservative Hindus continue to hold homosexuality to be immoral and in the nearly 70 years since Independence, Parliament has not been able to overturn the law. Subramanian Swamy, Member of Parliament from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party even went so far as to claim: “Our party position has been that homosexuality is a genetic disorder.” This is near-bizarre given that Hinduism, unlike Islam or Christianity, does not even have any textual condemnation of same-sex love.

It appears as though Muslim (and Hindu) conservatives, without knowing it, are actually copying the Victorian mores of 19th century colonialism, while ignoring their own history. This at a time when even Western European cultures have pulled up their socks and gone on to ensure that human rights are available to their people irrespective of random externalities such as the gender they happen to be attracted to.


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Why Islam Doesn’t Explain The Orlando Mass Shooting

Why Islam Doesn’t Explain The Orlando Mass Shooting



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Looking at the history of Omar Mateen, as well as the religion itself, throws into doubt the gunman’s understanding of the faith he claimed to represent. The same goes for larger terror cells, writes Michael Brull.

In the aftermath of the massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, many LGBTQI people and groups expressed solidarity with Muslims, urging that this attack not be used to demonise Muslims or Islam. Muslim intellectuals and groups have reciprocated the sentiment, expressing solidarity with the victims and LGBTQI people generally. Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, responded to the massacre immediately with condemnation on moral and religious grounds. On Wednesday, a similar statement was released by Muslim organisations and prominent figures.

Brull1 Statment

Regardless, right-wing politicians and commentators have hurried to link the attack to Islam and Muslims generally, using the massacre to promote goals like banning Muslim immigration.

While others have responded with critiques of the overt racism of some of these voices, in this article, I want to explain why these claims about the responsibility of Islam for this massacre are substantively wrong.

Early Muslim Culture Was Often Warm To Homosexuality

The University of Chicago Press published John Boswell’s National Book Award winning study, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality 16 years ago. In his landmark book, Boswell discusses early Muslim attitudes to homosexuality. In this passage, he discusses the aftermath of the Muslim invasion of Spain in the eighth century (I omit the footnotes). He explores at length the extent to which homosexuality was regarded “with indifference, if not admiration”, and widely featured in contemporary poetry:



Boswell then gives various examples of cultural expressions of homosexual relationships:


Boswell concludes that acceptance of homosexuality was pervasive, even as it was ruled by rigid Muslim jurists who were regarded as “fanatics in the rest of the Islamic world”:


In a 1997 essay in Feminist Issues, As’ad AbuKhalil argues that current Islamic opposition to homosexuality is a result of Western influence. AbuKhalil wrote that the “regularity and apparent legitimacy of homosexual relations” in the Muslim world “were seen by Medieval Christians as evidence of the moral decadence of Muslims”:

What passes as Islamic mores and conduct in much of the Islamic countries is in fact the impact of Westernization. ‘Puritanical Islam,’ which people from the past like medieval Christian polemicists or even Max Weber would never associate with the religion of Muhammad, owes much to European Protestantism. This change in Islamic treatment of the sexual question came about after centuries of Christian criticisms of Islamic moral permissiveness.

Whereas Christianity “stood for a puritanical morality and strict ethical code, Islam was ridiculed as the religion of sexual permissiveness and ethical laxity. Short of polytheism, all is forgiven in Islam. Medieval Christians found the God that Muslims worshipped too forgiving for their taste.”

AbuKhalil concludes that homophobia, “an ideology of hostility against men who are homosexuals, came out of the Christian tradition and has no counterpart in the Islamic tradition despite the homophobic inclination of individual Muslims, like ‘Ali or Abu Bakr in early Islam.” Furthermore, “violence against homosexuals, which is still common in Western societies, is quite rare among the Arabs”.

The point of revisiting this history is to illustrate a simple but important point. Religion, like culture, is not static. It develops over time, and is influenced by a variety of factors, just as religion can influence individuals and societies in complex ways. Blaming “Islam” for anything is simplistic, because it is not monolithic, it does not have one essence, and it is not consistent.

Today, there are many Muslims who regard homosexuality as sinful. There are also many people of other faiths who are opposed to homosexuality, including Jews and Christians. As noted by Glenn Greenwald, a US poll found American Muslims have comparable levels of approval (45 per cent) of societal acceptance of homosexuality as American Protestants (48 per cent). Among ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel (Charedim), only 8 per cent expressed support for gay people having full equality, as opposed to 89 per cent of secular Israelis.

The overwhelming majority of people of all faiths who object to homosexuality do so without that hatred manifesting in murder. There is a passage in the Torah that calls homosexuality an abomination, explicitly urging the execution of a man who lies with another man as with a woman. This is ignored, just as Jews ignore the passage ordering the execution of disobedient sons.

This is because the way people interpret their religious texts is complex. While fundamentalists and Islamophobes may insist that Islam is one thing, now and forever, that is not really how religions work.

The Complex Motives Of Omar Mateen

While the usual suspects were eager to blame Islam (or “radical Islam”) for the Orlando shooting, it is hard to take this too seriously. The murderer was apparently a regular at the gay nightclub he attacked, and was also a long time user of an app for gay dating called Jack’d. Much has been made of his statement of support for ISIS. Yet he has also declared support for Hezbollah and the Al Nusra Front. All three groups have killed each other’s members in Syria. It seems his understanding of these groups was about as sophisticated as that of Australian Islamophobes.

The murderer used to talk “about killing people all the time”, according to a former co-worker. He used to beat his ex-wife, who said he wasn’t very religious. She also claimed that he was “mentally unstable and mentally ill”. She said he had bipolar, and used steroids. His father, an admirer of the Taliban, commented that the murderer “doesn’t have a beard even”.

At this point, we just don’t know why he murdered so many people. Several factors may have contributed. It may have been some form of twisted revenge. As many have argued, it may have been a homophobic attack. If he was gay, it may have been the act of a man experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil. Without wishing to diminish the horrors of the massacre, he too may have been a victim of homophobia, who acted out the hatred he learned and internalised on others.

Calling This Islam Validates Terrorists

A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)
A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)

When someone commits an atrocity, and claims that they do it in the name of a religion followed by a great number of people, that claim is made to legitimise their act.

Trying to legitimise an immoral action with reference to ideals is not something unique to Muslims. When no WMDs were found in Iraq, suddenly Western politicians and intellectuals claimed the war on Iraq was a war for democracy and freedom. This doesn’t delegitimise democracy or freedom, because that’s not what the war was about. The point of using that rhetoric was to transfer the social currency of those concepts to an unjust war waged on fraudulent pretexts.

Likewise, the shooter in Orlando claimed he was part of a greater cause. Being an angry and hateful bigot is less glamorous, and would not garner the same public attention.

When hateful murderers claim Islam legitimises their actions, we should remember that they are trying to bring themselves under the legitimating umbrella of a faith practiced by about 1.7 billion people. No one has ever appointed any of these people as their spokesperson. While Westerners often call for Muslims to condemn these actions, they never pause to ask who has praised them. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have never received the blessing of any prominent Muslim theologians, and have often been condemned even by other salafi-jihadists.

Though people in the West continue to take seriously the credentials of these groups, many Muslims regard them as theologically dubious or theologically illiterate. Take this interview with Osama Bin Laden, from October 2001. The interviewer from Al Jazeera pointed out that the “killing of innocent civilians” is banned under Islam. Bin Laden responded by agreeing that “the Prophet Mohammed forbade the killing of babies and women. That is true, but this is not absolute.” He then argued inconsistently that the Twin Towers wasn’t really a civilian target, and that anyway, “If they kill our women and our innocent people, we will kill their women and their innocent people until they stop.” He called this “the good terrorism which stops them from killing our children in Palestine and elsewhere”.

Note: this is not a religious argument. And as Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University Akbar Ahmed argued in The Thistle and the Drone, revenge is hardly an Islamic response.



One of the world’s leading scholars on jihadis and Islamists is Professor Fawaz Gerges, from the London School of Economics. In his book on ISIS, he argues that ISIS has even less theological credibility than Al Qaeda. Gerges argues that Abu Musab al “Zarqawi and [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi are theologically illiterate… What distinguishes the post-al Qaeda wave from its predecessors is its poverty of ideas.” In one telling instance, Islamists in Syria challenged ISIS to submit to a sharia court to resolve a dispute between them. ISIS responded by saying that “The only law I subscribe to is the law of the jungle”. On another occasion, when criticised theologically, ISIS replied that those scholars should spend less time on “writing and authorship”, when they “have never fired a single bullet”.


In the West, ISIS is treated as though they are sophisticated and authoritative Islamic theologians, rather than hyper-violent thugs with a thin veneer of legitimising rhetoric. Gerges observes that ISIS could not have made the strides it has made without “the breakdown of state institutions in Syria and Iraq and rising sectarianism. It is a result of decades of dictatorship, failed governance and development, and abject poverty, made worse by ongoing foreign intervention and the Palestinian tragedy.”

The ‘Radical Islam’ The West Doesn’t Talk About

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.26.08 pmAustralian right-wingers lament the fall of Tony Abbott, and the rise of Malcolm Turnbull, fearing the latter is too soft on “radical Islam”. Yet their beloved Tony grieved the loss of the dead tyrant of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. He offered his “deepest condolences” for this tragic loss, praising the King’s “many achievements”, and flying the flags at half-mast.

Saudi Arabia beheads dozens of people each year, and practices many of the same punishments as ISIS for “crimes” like blasphemy and adultery. As observed by Gerges, ISIS school education guidelines “seem to borrow heavily from Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative Salafi curriculum”.

The extreme sect of Islam that is closely allied to the ruling house of Saud is a strain of Salafism called Wahhabism. The outstanding Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that “Wahhabi beliefs are close to the Salafi-jihadi ideology and over the last fifty years Wahhabism has become an increasing influence over mainstream Sunni Islam… Supported by the vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf those trained to preach and oversee mosques have become increasingly extreme and, while they may not support terrorist attacks, their beliefs provides fertile soil for those who do.” He concludes that until Western states are willing to “confront their Sunni allies in the Middle East… Orlando will only be the latest in a string of atrocities.”

Yet it is not just the governments that refuse to do so. While anti-Muslim ideologues often attack Islam, urge bans on Muslims, or otherwise decry the failure of Western liberals to oppose “radical Islam”, they rarely seem to have any interest in Wahhabism. Whether it’s right-wing politicians, right-wing anti-Muslim movements, or Murdoch columnists, this form of “militant” and “extreme” Islam always gets off the hook.

Because their concern isn’t “radical” Islam at all. Their concern is Muslims. And that tells you all you need to know.

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Fuelling Hate: The Structural And Cultural Violence Behind The Orlando Massacre

Fuelling Hate: The Structural And Cultural Violence Behind The Orlando Massacre


Though it’s easy to focus on a specific calamity, the violence faced by LGBTQI people goes far beyond the direct and disturbing manifestation witnessed in Orlando, writes Liam McLoughlin.

In 2008, a poor African-American transgender woman named Duanna Johnson was arrested by police in Memphis, Tennessee. In a city with a history of black protest against racially motivated police abuse, Johnson was baselessly charged with prostitution. When she refused to answer to homophobic and transphobic slurs in custody, she was severely beaten and pepper-sprayed. Although the incident was captured by surveillance cameras, local authorities refused to charge the officers involved.

Johnson spoke out about the brutality and according to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, she became the “public face of our community’s campaign against racism, homophobia and transphobia”. Nine months later she was murdered in downtown Memphis with a single bullet to the head. The police found no suspects and no motive for the murder.

Between 2007 and 2008, the incidences of reported American police violence against LGBT people increased by 150 per cent. The Southern Poverty Law Center found LBGT people in the US suffer twice the rate of violent hate crime compared to Jews or African-Americans, four times that of Muslims and 14 times that of Latinos. In 2014, a majority of Americans thought gay sex was morally unacceptable and 14 per cent believed AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual activity. More than half of LGBT-identified people reported concern about falling victim of a hate crime. Between 2004 and 2014 the share of hate crimes based on sexual orientation grew.

In the first 10 weeks of 2016 the Human Rights Campaign fought nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills across 34 US states, including Florida.

And in the early hours of June 12 at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, 29 year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 more in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

According to establishment media and politicians, Mateen was inspired by ISIS to engage in a gruesome act of Islamic terrorism which was an attack on freedom and “an assault on every one of us”. This narrative has taken hold, despite his father’s comments that “this had nothing to do with religion” and everything to do with homophobia.

Opportunistic politicians and media outlets across the West have descended like vultures to frame this as yet more damning evidence against Islam and further justification for intensified militarism, police powers, and surveillance.

Malcolm Turnbull’s response was typical: “We stand in solidarity with the people of the United States as they stand up to this terrorist, violent, hate-filled attack, whether it is in the skies above Syria and Iraq, in Afghanistan or on our borders”.

Refugee survivor and ex-detainee organisation RISE articulated the crass and cynical inaccuracy of this typical establishment line.

“Similar to his response after the Brussels attack, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has used the tragic events of Orlando to make a ridiculous link between refugees and terrorism. To use the murder of innocent people as an opportunity to demonise innocent refugees and justify bombings and militarised border control is pathetic, desperate and utterly racist.”

Yet again the government/media nexus is using the murder of innocent people to justify yet more violence against other innocent people.

Understanding the distinction between the highly visible direct violence of Orlando and the less visible cultural and structural violence at the root of such attacks is vital if we are ever going to escape this cycle of horror.

The Violence Triangle: Direct, Structural And Cultural Violence

Norwegian sociologist and peace researcher Johan Galtung’s “Violence Triangle” is a useful tool to help us understand Orlando and its aftermath. Galtung distinguishes three kinds of violence and they are causally linked.

The first is direct violence. This includes mass shootings, murder, rape, and assault – highly visible forms of violence in which the perpetrators are clearly identifiable individuals. The Orlando shooting is the latest and worst example of the prevalent direct violence which is directed at LGBTQI communities.

This form of violence dominates media coverage for several reasons. It accords with the doctrine of individual responsibility which prevails under neoliberalism and deflects responsibility from structures of power. It’s also a simple and compelling story which is big business for the media.

This is where mainstream coverage of Orlando begins and ends. At worst the homophobic nature of the attacks is erased and drowned out by the drum beat of Islamophobic rhetoric. At best the violence is described as a homophobic “act of hate” by a deeply disturbed individual.

The media wilfully ignores the structural and cultural violence upon which direct violence depends. These are more complex and less visible types of violence.

Structural violence is the exploitation and injustice built into our society. Galtung writes that structural violence “shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances”. It’s the violence which generates extreme wealth for the 1 per cent, poverty for the many and privileges some classes, genders, nationalities, religions and ethnicities over others. It’s about institutionalised forms of discrimination and exclusion and ingrained inequalities in access to education, resources and respect. The 200 anti-LGBT bills proposed in states across America this year would entrench structural violence against queer communities.

In responding to the Orlando massacre, the establishment avoids linking direct LGBTQI violence to structural violence at all costs. Blame Mateen, blame ISIS, blame Islam, blame anything but the homophobia, discrimination, and disrespect towards LGBTQI people actively fostered by institutions of power right across the United States.

new matilda, lgbti
A vigil for those killed in Orlando. (IMAGE: Fibonacci Blue, flickr).

The ruling classes just as steadfastly ignore the role of cultural violence in contributing to Mateen’s heinous actions. Galtung defines cultural violence as the attitudes and beliefs which “can be used to justify or legitimise direct or structural violence”. Religion, ideology, art, science, education and the media can all be responsible for cultural violence. It’s not hard to see connections between the homophobic rhetoric of the Christian right, the structural violence of anti-LGBTQI laws, and the direct homophobic violence of Omar Mateen.

Normalising Violence

If we want to understand how structural and cultural violence impact LGBTQI communities, it’s worth reading activist and writer Kay Whitlock.

The book she wrote in 2011 with Andrea Ritchie and Joey Mogul called Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalisation of LGBT People in the United States showed a feedback loop between the criminalisation of queer people and societal homophobia and transphobia. It shows in detail how media archetypes of the “queer killer”, the “sexually degraded predator”, the “disease spreader” and the “queer security threat” inform the ways sexuality is policed, prosecuted and punished. Its study of police harassment and brutality towards queers, especially transgender women of colour like Duanna Johnson, highlights the intersection of structural, cultural and direct violence.

Whitlock’s comments in subsequent papers and interviews are especially enlightening when thinking about how structural and cultural factors may have influenced Mateen. In a 2012 discussion paper called Reconsidering Hate: Policy and Politics at the Intersection, Whitlock writes:

“Hate violence is portrayed as individualised, ignorant, and aberrant, a criminal departure by individuals and extremist groups from the norms of society, necessitating intensified policing to produce safety. The fact is many of the individuals who engage in such violence are encouraged to do so by mainstream society through promotion of laws, practices, generally accepted prejudices, and religious views. In other words, behaviour that is racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant…does not occur in a political vacuum.”

Her explanation for this focus on direct violence is succinct.

“It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

In a 2015 interview for The Public Eye, Whitlock shows us how these cultures and structures normalise violence.

“What is called “hate violence”—violence directed at vulnerable and marginalised groups—is not abhorrent to respectable society. On the contrary, respectable society has provided the models, policies, and practices that marginalise people of colour, queers, disabled people, and in many respects, women.

We fixate on spree killings and assassinations because they’re so visibly terrifying…but regardless of who’s in power, we also have these structural forms of violence that continue year after year in the most respectable civic and private arenas. The violence is steadfast, consistent, and it’s absolutely massive. I’m talking about the violence of prisons, detention centres, psychiatric hospitals, and public schools with school officers who are armed to the teeth and who have absolute discretionary power to send kids into the criminal/legal system for minor infractions. We have lots of violence against people with disabilities who are penned up in institutions where someone has absolute power over them.”

Tackling these ingrained cultures and structures of violence is the only chance we have of escaping the recurring nightmare of direct violence.

From Islamophobia To Queer Justice

Barring Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Turnbull gave the worst possible response to the Orlando shooting. He mobilised the Islamophobic frame when he linked refugees to terrorism in showing “solidarity with the people of the United States”.

No Malcolm. Solidarity is not ramping up the “War on Terror” with more militarism and greater police powers. Solidarity is not dog-whistling to bolster your poll numbers in the marginals. Solidarity is not using the deaths of people from a persecuted minority to justify your persecution of another minority on Nauru and Manus.

Solidarity means resisting the erasure of LGBTI communities. It means accurately describing the causes of violence and offering historical, economic and social context for such events. It means highlighting structural and cultural violence and debating ways to dismantle violent policies and attitudes to LGBTI communities. It means confronting the gun lobby and opposing the corruption of our political systems. It means investigating community-based approaches to reducing violence. It means exploring ways to create more just, compassionate, equitable, kind, and loving societies.

It also means really listening to LGBTQI voices, like that of Duanna Johnson, whose courageous resistance to racism, homophobia and transphobia came at the cost of her life.

Or that of Steven W Thrasher, who wrote this in The Guardian.

“In this moment, let us not become nationalistic, or prejudiced, or vengeful. Let us not perpetuate the American cycle of violence. Let us interrupt this nightmare as the creative, loving, justice-seeking American queers that we are, who know well how to look death in the eye and still imagine a new, better living world.”
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In Christian America, “The Long, Tragic History of Violence at LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in America”

The Long, Tragic History of Violence at LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in America


Firemen give first aid to survivors of the UpStairs Lounge arson attack that left 32 dead and dozens injured on June 24, 1973, in New Orleans.  AP Photo/G.E. Arnold


The mass shooting at Orlando’s LGBT nightclub Pulse, which left at least 50 dead, is only the latest chapter in a long history of violence at LGBTQ bars and clubs in America. In fact, for as long as LGBTQ people have been congregating in their own social spaces, these spaces have been the target of vicious homophobic and transphobic violence.

Until the Pulse massacre, the most notorious act of violence against a gay bar was the burning of the UpStairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar, in 1973. An arsonist set fire to the bar, killing 32 people in less than 20 minutes. The vast majority of politicians declined to comment on the arson, and the Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans did not offer support to the victims. (The Archdiocese apologized for its silence in 2013.) Many news outlets ignored the story; some of those that did cover it mocked the victims for being gay. No one has ever been prosecuted for the crime. When asked about identifying the victims, the chief detective of the New Orleans Police Department responded, “We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.”

In 1997, “Olympic Park Bomber” Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, later explaining that he believed “the concerted effort to legitimize the practice of homosexuality” was an “assault upon the integrity of American society.” He described homosexuality as “an aberrant sexual behavior,” and wrote that “when the attempt is made” to “recognize this behavior as being just as legitimate and normal as the natural man/woman relationship, every effort should be made, including force if necessary, to halt this effort.” In his confession, Rudolph railed against the “homosexual agenda,” including “gay marriage, homosexual adoption, hate-crime laws including gays, or the attempt to introduce a homosexual normalizing curriculum into our schools.”

Three years later, Ronald Gay opened fire on Backstreet Cafe, a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia, killing Danny Overstreet, 43, and severely injuring six others. Gay was angry that his last name could mean “homosexual” and said God had told him to kill gay people. He called himself a “Christian Soldier working for my Lord” and testified in court that he wished he could have “killed more fags.” More recently, in 2013, Musab Mohammed Masmari set fire to Neighbours, a gay nightclub in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, on New Year’s Eve.* Masmari had explained that he believed gay people “should be exterminated.”

Of course, these attacks only punctuate the thousands of anti–LGBTQ hate crimes that occur in public—in schools and bathrooms and parks, on sidewalks and often in broad daylight—every year. Federal law did not explicitly criminalize anti–LGBTQ hate crimes until quite recently, as President George W. Bush had threatened to veto any legislation that outlawed hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. With President Barack Obama’s support, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act finally passed in 2009. It drew just five Republican votes in the Senate, and its fiercest opponent, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, criticized his colleagues for merely caving to “the political cause of the moment.”


Mark Joseph Stern
Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.

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