by Sue Caldwell, LGBT+ Against Islamophobia
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies email@example.com
The day after the Orlando massacre I was at the vigil in Soho with thousands of others. This is the key LGBT+ area in Central London and the main street was absolutely packed, especially outside the Admiral Duncan pub which was bombed by a neo-Nazi in 1999 resulting in three deaths and many injuries.
People came to comfort each other after hearing that in a clearly homophobic attack Omar Mateen shot over 100 people, killing 49 of them, in an LGBT+ club in Orlando, Florida. According to his father he had been “disgusted” at the sight of two men kissing. The FBI and the press were quick to pick up on the fact that the killer was Muslim. However, the response from the LGBT+ community has been to resist attempts to blame Islam for the massacre, and to call for unity against both homophobia and racism.
People came to comfort each other in the face of this horrific reminder of the continued existence of threats and violence towards LGBT+ people. But they also came to issue a plea for unity, for “love not hate”. And some came determined to actively challenge oppression in all its forms.
I took with me the banner of the group LGBT+ Against Islamophobia. This group was formed in February 2015 after a meeting with original members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners who had been depicted in the film Pride that showed how LGBT+ people built solidarity with the miners against Margaret Thatcher in 1984/5. We felt that just as the miners had been called the “enemy within” by the Tories then, so Muslims were being scapegoated and targeted today.
People were really pleased to see our banner on the vigil, and many people stopped to take photos and read our leaflets. We put out a statement condemning the shooting and calling on people to resist any attempt to whip up Islamophobia. We did this because we know that anything that plays into the hands of racists and fascists strengthens the bigots who hate us too. It is not a coincidence that the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany rounded up gay people and sent them to the gas chambers. Our symbol of the pink triangle is used because it is what the Nazis made gay prisoners wear in the concentration camps.
And it’s not just in Britain that people are rejecting racism as a response to the massacre. In America people held a vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York, site of riots in 1969 that launched the Gay Liberation Front, and thus started the modern LGBT+ movement. Among them was Daisy Jesus who was on the first Pride march in Greenwich Village in 1970.
She said “We’ve been through Islamophobia and we’ve had enough of it.
“After 9/11 you stopped seeing Muslim families in the park—they were being beaten up. People threw cans and bottles at them.
“It took six years before you really saw Muslim women and children at the park again. We don’t want this to happen again.”
Politicians like to present Islam as being more homophobic than any other religion, but this is not true. Islam, like Christianity and other religions, has a long and complex history open to a variety of interpretations with regard to sexuality. There are also many LGBT+ Muslim people and groups, although the mainstream media rarely give them a voice. We also know that in many states in America it is Christian evangelical churches that spread hate towards LGBT+ people. One Baptist pastor, Roger Jimenez, said after Orlando that it was a ‘tragedy that more of them didn’t die’.
Clearly there are complex issues surrounding Omar Mateen. There are rumours that he was gay himself for example. The clubbers were mostly Latinx—people from Spanish and Portuguese American backgrounds. The hurt of people from those communities will be compounded by the fact that a shooting in an LGBT+ bar in Mexico a couple of weeks earlier has gone largely unreported.
What is clear is that Mateen was born and raised in a society where homophobic remarks are made by establishment figures with impunity. Despite legal advances and changes in attitude particularly, among young people, many states remain dangerous places. We must continue to fight for a society free from homo-, bi- and transphobia.
One place that we will be taking this message over the summer is at Pride parades around the country. Sadly the militant spirit that launched Pride is being pushed to the side by corporate organisations who see us simply as a market for promoting their business. We will be taking our banner and marching with trade unionists to defy the homophobes after Orlando, but also to unite against austerity and racism.