Over 100 people were shot and at least 50 of them are dead in a mass shooting early this morning at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (FLA), a popular gay bar. Omar Mateen, the man responsible for the largest mass shooting in the United States, was killed after three hours when a SWAT team swarmed into the bar. Mateen was armed with ammunition, a handgun, and an AR-15-type assault-style rifle, the civilian variant of the military M-16 rifle, according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. The firearms were legally purchased, and the killer had active security officer and firearm licenses. His family said he worked as a private security officer.
Mateen’s father said that “this had nothing to do with religion,” but his son became very angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami. The man’s ex-wife said that he was unstable and had violent tendencies. She said that he was abusive and beat her repeatedly during their marriage. He had given her no indications that he was devoted to radical Islam.
Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, issued this statement in response:
“Last night, the worst domestic terror attack since 911 has tragically hit American LGBT families head on—children, moms, dads, neighbors, friends—lives that are changed forever. In the days ahead we will come to know the latest victims of hatred—mostly young men and women who were simply out for a night of dancing and enjoyment of our community during LGBT Pride month. These victims of a hate crime targeting an LGBT club had their futures stolen, had their dreams stolen, their potential contributions stolen from us all.
“The LGBT Orlando community and our allies in Central Florida are both strong and unified. We send a world of love and prayers to all who are grieving today and to all who will begin the hard journey to recover from untold wounds, both physical and emotional. But our love and prayers are simply not enough. Hate and separation continue to bring forth too much grief, too many stolen lives across the whole world.
“As we reach out to comfort the Orlando families, and as we support the courage for the injured to heal, may we also have the strength to address and deal with the roots of hatred and separation that target any minority community with violence, anywhere in the world. May we find a way forward to make this act of horrendous violence a commitment to come together and so honor the memories of those who were killed today.”
Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson stated:
“Spaces like Pulse aren’t just bars and clubs. They are a lifeline to many LGBTQ people —a place to be free and open. Falling almost exactly one year after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, this tragedy is a reminder of all the ways that hate, intolerance and violence show up. As we seek to make sense of this tragedy and so many others, we do so focused on building a culture of inclusion, respect, liberation and love.”
Barbara Poma, co-owner of Pulse, founded the club to honor her brother who died of AIDS in 1991 and to support the LGBT community. She and her business partner, Ron Legler, survived the shooting. The night before this horrific killing, a St. Petersburg man shot and killed 22-year-old Christina Gimmie, while she was signing autographs after her show at The Plaza Live theater. She had won third place on NBC’s The Voice on Season 6.
President Obama called this “an act of terror and an act of hate.” He said:
“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all of our friends, our fellow Americans, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The shooter targeted a night club where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a night club, it is a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us, and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”
Calls have gone out for blood donors, but men who have had sex with other men in the past year are prevented from donating, according to FDA guidelines. This policy is greatly softened since the first policy banning gay donors was adopted in 1983, but Orlando clinics are still following the 23-year-old protocols. Current tests can sense antibodies that develop within two weeks of infection, reducing the risk of receiving HIV to about 1 in 2 million, but rules for donating blood ignore this science. Other high-risk populations such as illegal drug users and prostitutes have no limits in donating blood.
In its typical hate-filled rhetoric, Fox network hosts blamed President Obama because he had made the country less safe. Donald Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Immediately after blaming “the immigrants” for the massacre, Trump said, “I am going to be a President for all Americans.” (Mateen was a U.S. citizen.) Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick posted Galatians 6:7 on Twitter: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Other Republicans who voted for unlimited ownership of guns and against LGBT rights are sending the customary “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Anyone who attacks our LGBT community will be gone after with the fullest extent of the law.” In Florida, that usually means the law is only for straight white men. If Mateen were still alive, he might be able to use the defense that LGBT people threaten him.
The report that Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS has received more attention than the fact that this tragedy is a hate crime. If one self-identified Muslim kills, it’s an act that conservatives call radical Islamic terrorism so that they can push their narrow, bigoted agenda. If one self-identified Christian kills, as in the murder of three people at a Colorado abortion clinic, they think that it has nothing to do with Christianity. To conservatives, it is the act of a mentally unbalanced person. Nowhere has the mainstream media published the fact that people in the United States are much more likely to be killed by right-wing extremists, many of them self-identified Christians, than by Muslims.
Some Christian leaders call for killing all “homosexuals”; three GOP presidential candidates attended a conference this past year where the leader called for these “executions.” A Christian lawyer in California has proposed killing LGBT people with bullets to the head. More than that, he proposes that citizens should not have to face any charges if they LGBT people. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, calls gay Christians “the enemy.” As hate crime rates against all other segments of the population go down, hate crimes against LGBT people increase. And until this morning, these crimes were not by Muslims.
Conservative leaders, such as Ted Cruz, call for an end to “political correctness” and the restriction of “immigrants.” They are enraged because the 9th Circuit Court has ruled in favor of the California law banning concealed weapons outside the home and the 2nd Circuit Court ruled in favor of a Connecticut law that bans assault-type weapons and large magazines of weapons. Blame ISIS, they cry, while ignoring the two other largest gun massacres, one in Newton (CT) where 29 people were left dead and the other at Virginia Tech University that left 33 dead.
This Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court may hear an appeal to the decision from the 2nd Circuit Court about whether to hear Shew v. Malloy or put off that determination for another week or two. The 2nd Circuit Court had upheld a law that bans assault-type weapons and large ammunition magazines. In his decision that the Connecticut law does not violate the constitution’s Second Amendment, U.S. Circuit Judge José A. Cabranes wrote:
“New York and Connecticut have adequately established a substantial relationship between the prohibition of both semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines and the important — indeed compelling — state interest in controlling crime.”
I want two things. The next time a self-identified Christian kills someone, I want it announced that a Christian performed the crime. And I want controls on gun ownership. And yes, I’m not going to get either wish.
[Update: Florida Gov. Rick Snyder has refused to recognize that killing and injuring over 100 people in a gay bar is a hate crime.
Statement from Terry O’Neill, NOW president: