Orlando: LGBTQ Massacre by Terrorist-Stop the Violence and Hatred

(Revised edition).

World-wide sympathy  pours out for the victims, families and friends of the terrorist massacre of 49 (and rising) members of the LGBT community gathered at a club in Orlando,Florida on June 12th, 2016. In articles below: Pope Francis strongly decried this horrific event. Francis De Bernardo of New Ways Ministries notes that many of the religious who decry this event fail to mention that it was a directed attempt against the LGBTQ community.

As I listened to the initial debates as to whether it was terrorism or a hate crime, I was amazed that people thought it had to be either or when, in fact, both hatred and terrorism are events that members of the LGBTQ community have had to endure throughout history. It turns out that the killer did identify with Isis and also other terrorist groups, some hated by Isis. The killer’s former wife said that he was unstable, bipolar and aggressive. Her life was in danger before she escaped and was divorced. The killer’s father said that the killer witnessed gay couples together in Miami and that he hated gays. Yet later reports placed him in the Pulse Club, sitting alone and talking loudly(to himself) over a three year period. So here we have the situation of a profoundly disturbed person with mental illness, unrecognized and untreated by the killer, who identified with terrorists, had some connections with terrorists abroad although he was born in the USA, and hated gays. Perhaps he also hated himself and his own inclinations.His father, a self-styled Afghan leader in the USA, also was quoted with anti-gay statements.

People talk glibly of how easy this would have been to prevent. But the killer was an American,not an immigrant so keeping immigrants or the Muslim faith out would be a ridiculous solution.  (Well, it is ridiculous and hateful anyway!This thinking is the problem not the solution.) Improving the mental health system here might help-but what a big job that will be! Gun control would definitely help-but not eliminate the problems-a multifocal approach is needed.   Attending to diverse youth(both non-majority youth and youth struggling with or being gay) with greater care as they pass through educational institutions and negotiate dominant society in which minorities of all sorts can meet with prejudice and discrimination in doses that cause impotence and rage could help- and yet another tall order.

It is ironic and paradoxical that the killer, a second generation Afghan-American, probably experienced painful discrimination and  his difference as “less than” and those massacred in Orlando experience this most of the time. I remember struggling with my own LGBTQ identity in my thirties and only wanting to be able to hold hands and exchange affection with my beloved partner  in a manner that was so easy to do when I was with my former husband. In many places it was totally unsafe to do this simple thing. And as I fell from heterosexual grace in the church , family and community I realized that I no longer had any of the privileges of heterosexual status. Difference became my name. It took a long while just to be me again. Prejudice, discrimination, misinformation and, yes, hatred, was something I learned to live with.  And so many learned to live with direct violence as well. The horrible example of Matthew Wayne Shepard, a young man in Wyoming who was tied to a fence, pistol-whipped and killed by gay-haters stays in my vivid memory although it was in 1998. Indeed, his sufferings were not unlike Christ’s. Let us see Christ in every one harmed by hate.

It was Latino/a Night at the Pulse Bar where the Massacre took place. The participants there, many in their twenties and thirties, had experienced painful discrimination as Latinos/as and as gays and lesbians (along the LGBTQ spectrum). It is not unusual that one minority may turn against another when the roots of the problem lie in the intolerance for difference passed down the generations. To the extent that some of these roots are part of religious cultures, the church and other religions must cry : mea culpa. mea culpa, mea maxima culpa-“the fault is mine”-and change it. That change must come now-it is already too late, but before it happens again, let us affirm the worth of our GLBTQ sisters and brothers, and ALL people of different religions, races and cultures.  As Pope Francis earlier said and some, like Hillary Clinton and others affirm: let us build bridges not walls.

While there may be some level of greater tolerance for difference in the younger generation there is no doubt that the seeds of prejudice, fear and discrimination are passed on and take root, adding to the kind of horrific event we have witnessed in Orlando.

It is time for all people of good faith to build those bridges: and build them now.    Build them in all we say, in all we do, in all we hope for and in all we are. Build them with progressive political candidates, do not tolerate idiocy even for a minute, build them with good people everywhere-and do it NOW.

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP 


Friends and family members of victims embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub  - REUTERS

Friends and family members of victims embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub – REUTERS

12/06/2016 19:22
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is shaken and saddened by the ‘homicidal folly and senseless hatred’ that has left at least 50 people dead in an attack on a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.A statement released  by the Holy See Press Office Director, Father Federico Lombardi SJ, on the Orlando massacre which has been described as the worst mass shooting in American history.

Please find below Vatican Radio’s translation of the statement:

The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.

The attack, which took place early Sunday in a crowded nightclub, was perpetrated by a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun.

Authorities are reportedly investigating the attack as an act of terrorism.

Officials said at least 53 other people were hospitalized, most in critical condition. A surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.

And from Francis De Bernardo-New Ways Ministries:

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.

Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.

Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.

Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”

While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror.  Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.

Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.”  This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages.  The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.

As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background.  Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.

The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment.  This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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