Orlando: A hate crime against the gay community

At least 50 people celebrating “Latin Night” at a popular Orlando gay bar were slaughtered this weekend by a homophobic killer who was packing enough guns and ammunition to kill many more times that number. In addition to those murdered, 53 were wounded.

This worst-ever mass shooting in American history was first and foremost a crime of hate against the nation’s LGBTQIA community.

A haven, violated

The first gay bar I ever entered in the early 1970’s was Danny’s in Brooklyn Heights. The bar had, in earlier years, been the place where the then-Brooklyn Dodgers hung out after games. After they abandoned us for Los Angeles it gradually became a bar for working-class gay men in Brooklyn. Danny’s is gone now, having drowned years ago under the wave of gentrification that rolled over Brooklyn, my home town.

Danny’s was important to me because it was a place I could go and be myself –  a place where I could like myself and like people who were like myself. I was safe there. And for the dead and injured in Orlando –  even though it is more than 40 years after I hung out in Danny’s –  I’m sure that this was their safe place too – the place where they could love themselves and love other folks who were like them. Pulse was a safe sanctuary. Until the horror of Saturday night.

President Obama was one of the very few political leaders who recognized this when he described the gay club Pulse as “a place of solidarity and empowerment” that had been violated.

Many Democratic politicians were properly “respectful,” sending out their condolences to the victims and not wanting to politicize the event. But their remarks did not reflect the simple truth reflected in the President’s remarks. A place of solidarity and empowerment for gay people had been violated in an act of mass murder.

This is personal-and political

I don’t believe politics can be avoided in this situation – not when politics is so wound up in what laid the groundwork for this slaughter.

The reactions of Trump and all the Republican leaders were nothing short of an additional national disgrace. They condemned the massacre without ever mentioning either gays or the mass killings going on in America. This was true for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell – not to mention a host of other Republicans who reacted.

After all, in state after state, the GOP is supporting bills that would roll back the hard -fought gains of the LGBTQIA community. In the wake of the victory for same sex marriage rights the GOP is supporting anti-gay initiatives across the South and wherever else they can push them – legitimizing the idea that gays are second class citizens.

Trump, their presumed presidential nominee, did more than simply ignore the attack on gay people. He started bragging right after the Orlando shooting about how right he was in proposing a ban on Muslims coming into America. One problem with that, of course, was that the killer was born in New York.

The key point is that we must not allow the right wing to use the deaths of our gay brothers and sisters in Orlando to push racist attacks against President Obama and fear mongering against immigrants in general or Muslims in particular. Muslims are Americans and right wingers are using attacks on them the same way racists use fear mongering against blacks and other minorities. The aim of the right wing is to draw attention away from the fact that racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are the enemies here-and they are what is behind the real terrorism that Americans face.

The real terrorism: the idea that some people don’t matter

When the powers-that-be get people to accept the idea that one group of people doesn’t matter as much as another group, we have the key ingredients for a terrorist cocktail. These ingredients are American ingredients; they are not ones imported here from other countries.

Enslavement of black Americans for 250 years, the genocide against Native Americans, Jim Crow, lynching, assassinations, Timothy McVeigh and the white supremacists, destruction of unions,  the death of 30,000 Americans each year to gun violence on our streets – these are only some of the acts of terror and violence in this country that have not been imported from anyplace else. They are carried out by or allowed to continue by our own homegrown ruling class. And they are defended by politicians who would use what happened in Orlando to further an agenda that generates the real terrorism and violence in America.

Any politician who uses what happened in Orlando to further the right wing political agenda and who fails to speak out about the real violence and terror plaguing America does not deserve to be re-elected or to be elected come November. Orlando should serve as the point at which all of us say it loudly and clearly: Enough is enough.

Photo: A woman in New York cries and holds flowers near a makeshift memorial for the Orlando shooting victims.  |  Markus Schreiber/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.