It is not easy to see a bright side in the horrendous massacre last week at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, but it does force us to think. The wounds are still very raw, and the shock and sorrow are still overwhelming. But partly because this tragedy cannot be ignored, it may take us forward.
In the last few years, we have come a long way in coming to terms with the reality of alternative sexuality. More and more, people understand that LGBT people exist, that they have integrity, and that they are entitled to the same rights and same respect as others. There are, obviously, some who disagree, of which a few are hate-filled maniacs. But for most of us, gays are no longer the other. We love them, or not, for who they are.
We should be grateful to LGBTs for many transformative contributions, but here’s one that’s not often noted: in proudly accepting their differentness, they help us do the same. As we gradually accept their variations, we more easily accept that we ourselves are each a little different. Those of us somewhere outside the mainstream, in our interests, passions, and styles, may especially feel this.
Back in 1980 or so, my dear friend Tom Sulerzyski, who died in the first onslaught of AIDS, tried to explain to me what Stonewall meant, in terms of gay liberation. It took me some years before I understood what he was saying. At Stonewall, gay people stood up to mainstream power, and changed their state. They would no longer be subservient, mostly invisible victims.
I think the Pulse massacre and its aftermath will come to be seen as another milestone in gay liberation – when the murder of gays was finally, fully settled as being intolerable, beyond any debate. Acceptance of LGBTs and their communities will continue to increase.
This week there were a few voices trying to acknowledge the tragedy while avoiding references to the sexual orientation of the victims, but they were called out as ridiculous in the mainstream press. Even a lot of conservatives – even the Donald! – acknowledged that the tragedy was about gays. Even the Security Counsel of the UN, which includes countries where it is dangerous to be gay, deemed it unacceptable to target gays in condemning the massacre. United States diplomats led the effort on this resolution, for which U.S. citizens can be proud.
For all the progress in tolerance and respect, there are still obvious dangers. The NY Times reported that LGBTs are still the most likely targets of hate crimes in the U.S. The Times story suggests that increasing tolerance may have the perverse effect of increasing hate crimes, as the hate-filled minority feels embattled and threatened.
There’s no quick fix for such mental problems. But here’s an idea: what if we kept powerful weapons designed expressly to kill many human beings out of the hands of everyone who might become mentally ill (that is, everyone)? And what if we made it a major priority to improve the quality and availability of health care available for mental illness?
Not surprisingly, there is much confusion about how to interpret this heinous act. It has been seized on as an occasion for fear mongering and for demonizing Muslims by some (including, vociferously, the Donald). Did the Pulse massacre have anything to do with ISIS? The perpetrator apparently thought so. But is he actually a reliable source?
How often do people really understand why they do what they do? Much of what drives us is unconscious, and even the conscious part is highly unreliable, featuring narratives that serve to resolve interior conflicts and to rationalize imperfect perceptions. It seems unlikely that we can ever fully and truly understand human motivation, including our own.
The killer here was a violent, disturbed person, apparently guilty of spousal abuse, possibly a closeted, confused, self-hating gay. He is probably best viewed as pathetically deranged. There is no evidence so far that he was part of any large anti-western movement, or even of a tiny conspiracy of violent radicals. Certainly nothing we’ve learned would justify us in thinking these murders could possibly justify continuing our quixotic war on terror.