Early this morning, a gunman killed 50 people and injured 53 others at the Pulse (a gay nightclub) in Orlando, Florida. The Associated Press is calling the attack the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The reported gunman, 29 year-old Omar Mateen, was killed by law enforcement after exchanging fire with police and taking hostages, reports USA Today. According to CNN, Mateen was investigated by the FBI on two occasions in the past for possible Islamic extremist sympathies. Pink News reports that Mateen called authorities and pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State before his death, and that the Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the shooting.
The homophobic motivations behind the crime seem obvious. Seddique Mateen, the reported gunman's father, insisted that the crime was not religiously motivating, claiming that his son grew angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami, NBC News reports. However, Seddique Mateen has reportedly voiced support for the Taliban in on his TV show and videos, according to the Washington Post, so make of his statements what you will.
President Obama delivered a statement on the Orlando massacre, during which he reflected on the homophobic nature of the attack, the urgent need to rise above hate, and the horrors of gun violence.
"This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends -- our fellow Americans -- who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub 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 nightclub -- 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. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.
Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."
Multiple organizations have condemned the attack as well. Rasha Mubarak, regional coordinator of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), condemned the shooting and encouraged fellow Muslims to donate blood in a press release.
"We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence."GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called the tragedy "horrific" and grieved for the victims.
"This unimaginable atrocity has not only robbed countless people of their loved ones, it has also stolen a sense of safety within the LGBTQ community. As we mourn the victims of this unspeakable attack, we are also reminded that the work to end hate in all its forms must continue."Other LGBTQ equality groups pointed out that the crime must be understood as a homophobic crime as well as an act of terrorism. In an online statement, Human Rights Campaign reminded readers that while the crime has not yet been labeled a hate crime, LGBTQ people are frequent targets of hate violence. "We are grateful that President Obama has directed the FBI and other federal agencies to support the investigation of this attack and the LGBTQ community during this time," HRC president Chad Griffin said.
Beverly Tillery, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, urged readers to place the shooting in the larger context of gun violence and bigotry, and to avoid demonizing Muslims for the attack.
"This is an enormous tragedy. A tragedy that belongs to the LGBTQ communities, but a tragedy that belongs to the entire nation as well. With mass shootings occurring all too frequently, we must to begin to talk about the ways LGBTQ people are impacted by gun violence in this country. We must also consider the broader context in which this horrific act of violence has occurred. That this happened while many across the country are celebrating Pride, and against the backdrop of harmful anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the nation, is something we must not overlook.I hope that Americans keep sight of the fact that this shooting was both a hate crime and a terrorist act. We can safely assume that the shooter's actions were inspired by both religious extremism and homophobia. Do we need any further evidence that homophobia and transphobia can have deadly consequences? Do we need any more proof that hatred mingled with religious extremism produces tragedy?
In the days ahead we will learn more about this shooting, and a clearer picture of the motivations will emerge. However, individualizing the problem of hate violence is not the answer. Nor is condoning Islamophobia. Now is a time to stand in solidarity and collectively address the homophobia and transphobia in all of our environments, and actively work to challenge and change it if we are to be truly safe and free."