Let Orlando be the moment that unites Muslim and LGBT communities against all hate
On the news the Orlando shooter was a frequent visitor at the gay club he attacked, had profiles on gay apps and beat his wife, I'm reminded of this quote by Black Panthers co-founder Huey P Newton:
"Sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with."
Newton’s crude but astute interpretation of patriarchal masculinity says more about Omar Mateen, I would argue, than his confused phone call from the scene of the crime pledging allegiance to three distinctly different organisations currently at all-out-war with each other. But alas: it’s always more comforting to blame something foreign, not to mention politically convenient.
Newton’s apt summary comes from a larger piece, written in 1970, with reference to solidarity and oppression; specifically focusing on the importance of uniting the black power movement with gay and women's liberation struggles. It’s simple, effective and terribly cliché: but the people united will never be defeated.
Therefore in the wake of the barbaric terror attack on the LGBT community in Orlando, it is extremely heartening to see leaders on both sides of an unfortunately ever-increasing divide uniting for love to denounce hatred.
Journalist Owen Jones, a gay male, held up a "no to Islamophobia banner" as he stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands in Old Compton Street, Soho, at a vigil for those who lost their lives. Salma Yacoob, a prominent Muslim activist, marched with pride through the streets of Birmingham against homophobia and made this powerful statement on where we should go from here:
“Fellow minority groups – especially those who have been persecuted for their beliefs and lifestyle – must stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT+ community in this battle against hate… If there is a light we can salvage from this darkness, then let it be a united stance against hate, against homophobia, against transphobia, against racism and against Islamophobia. Let us send out a clear message: Love wins.”
The last 15 years of war and terror have seen a concerted effort by politicians, pundits and fundamentalists to divide these two communities. Strange alliances have been made, as the right and far right play lip-service to LGBT struggle, in order to further their attacks on Muslims.
To illuminate just how conditional such support is we only have to look at the incident which saw Jones nobly walk out of a cringe-worthy edition of Sky News press review. Jones stating the obvious, that the Orlando shooting was a homophobic attack, was greeted with strange denial by presenter Mark Longhurst, who suggested that the crime targeted “human beings… trying to enjoy themselves, whatever their sexuality."
The other guest, right-wing commentator and former Guardian journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, was a little more imaginative, suggesting that the killer would have happily killed her “a gobby woman.” But it seems facts are irrelevant to pundits with an agenda. So let me clarify: the shooter did target the LGBT community, he shot up a gay club during Gay Pride month, killing 49 members of the LGBT community. And as far as I know, Katie Hopkins is still alive.
Why would labelling the attack homophobic be so controversial? Primarily because it does not suit a political narrative. Jones, the only LGBT voice in discussion, forget to do one thing: blame the Muslims; therefore he needed some straight-splaining. All lives matter comes to mind.
It gets worse: Hartley-Brewer took her offence to the next level by likening Jones to ISIS. ISIS, a fascist organisation that throws gay people off buildings, similar to a gay British socialist? No words.
Writing later about the incident, Jones explained: “The 'We only care about LGBT rights if Muslims are involved’ brigade are out in force. As a gay man, I am proud to live in a city represented by a Muslim mayor who has faced death threats for supporting and voting for LGBT people to have the same rights as everybody else. The bigots must not be allowed to hijack this atrocity.”
My primary concern here is not with the bigots, Jones and many others have taken them to task. This column is about the good people on both sides of the man-made divide who willingly ignore each other’s struggle and plight. I am talking about the Muslim activists who would like you to stand with them against Islamophobia but are unwilling themselves to stand up against homophobia. And the LGBT activists asking for solidarity but refusing to offer any to their Muslim brothers and sisters.
In some senses both sides have legitimate concerns about the other. Religion and homosexuality have never been the best of bedfellows. So given that historic divide, it comes down to what kind of person you are and what kind of future you wish to ultimately create.
I would argue that if you make it your duty to fight oppression in one form, then be consistent with that struggle and make sure your net is wide and strong enough to include other groups who have likewise suffered oppression. If you wish to carve out a future based upon love, then fight hate in all forms now.
One only has to watch Pride, a film that depicts an unlikely alliance that developed in the 1980s between the LGBT community and the miners during the year-long strike, to see just how powerfully transforming and important acts of such solidarity can be to both parties.
If you wish to withdraw to your own private corner because of preconceptions, value judgements, insecurities or just pure blindness, then expect your own fight to be damaged and possibly unwinnable.
That doesn’t mean you have to agree with another person’s values, belief system or even how they wish to live their life. It just simply means that you stand for their freedom to do so without fear.
If you want to win your own battle then you will need some allies. Those in similar positions in terms of oppression are normally a good start. Solidarity: Unlock someone else’s chains and you never know, they just might be the key to unlocking your own.
- Charles B. Anthony is a writer, filmmaker, columnist, producer/host of Middle East Eye's Blink News and researcher for Will Self.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Image: Salma Yaqoob joins a thousand-strong vigil on the streets in Birmingham's Gay Village to show solidarity with the victims of the attack in Orlando (Adam Yosef for I Am Birmingham)
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