Monday, June 13, 2016

Gay lives matter

Sunday started out gloomy at our ranch in Mexico and it only got grayer as the day went on. We woke up to dense fog that erased the mountains that usually delineate our horizon, while clouds descended so low they seemed to settle atop our house, making us almost feel trapped.

Then around eleven o'clock our phone started chirping and vibrating incessantly on the kitchen counter, signaling newsflashes from CNN that twenty people had been shot dead in Orlando, a number that after noon had risen to fifty, including the killer, plus fifty-three people wounded.

As I recall CNN didn't mention the word "gay" or "gay bar" initially, and the New York Times' rambling opening report only mentioned "gay" once. No complaints there. Reporters and editors understandably were caught by surprise and assembled whatever scraps of information were available.

But as the day progressed, commentators and politicians—except for President Obama and Hillary Clinton and other usual liberal suspects—immediately pivoted to speculation that centered on terrorism. Conjecture quickly gelled into "fact" after the killer was identified as a U.S. citizen but who had an Arabic-sounding name and was the son of Afghan immigrants. Bingo.  

That was not an unreasonable suspicion or supposition except it missed the gorilla in the room: The site of the massacre was a crowded gay bar and all the dead and wounded were gay men and women. Those were incontrovertible, readily available facts that needed no speculation or interpretation and had some bearing on the evolving story.

A gay bar and a refuge for gay people.   (AP photo)
Might not homophobia been the principal cause—more so or as important as—possible Islamic terror links or the wide availability of assault weapons? Might not homophobia—the hatred, ostracism and condemnation of gays and lesbians—that right-wing politicians have embraced as central article of faith and has become a GOP political talking point during the past fifteen or twenty years, contributed to the Orlando massacre? Such suspicions would hardly be a stretch.

It's not as if this gay bar was the first one to be attacked, by bigots and sometimes even police. In 1973 a deliberately set fire at a bar in New Orleans killed thirty-two people and there have been thousands of incidents of homophobia since that have led to the death or injury of gay people.

But on Sunday all the talk was about radical Muslims, led by Donald Trump who never misses an occasion, no matter how grotesque or inappropriate, to advance his demagogic agenda in person or in this case through "I told you" tweets about Islamic terrorists that mentioned nothing about the victims being gay.

A good friend in Chicago recently wrote me that the current political debate and climate in the U.S. nowadays are "beyond comprehension." Imagine how much more disheartening and confusing it must be for Stew and me, living ten or twelve hours driving time from the closest inch of U.S. soil, and trying to follow events back home by watching and reading about them on electronic gadgets.

Following the Orlando massacre, few politicians specifically lamented the deaths of 49 gay people or the scourge of homophobia that might have motivated the killer.

The exceptions were President Obama, who took time to recognize "all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered" affected by the Orlando massacre, and Hillary Clinton, who reassured the gay community "that you have millions of allies across the country. I am one of them."

For his part, Sen. Ted Cruz issued a statement that is a masterpiece of cynicism. While presumably strongly condemning the killing of gays and lesbians he really aimed his fire at Democrats and specifically Obama for not putting enough effort into eradicating Islamic extremists.

Beware of Republican homophobes bearing gifts. I doubt that either the president, Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party support or coddle terrorists. Far more likely, Cruz is trying to use the issue for political advantage.

Besides, I'm suspicious of someone like Cruz who, in the dying days of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination launched yet another jihad against gays and lesbians, this time under a totally disingenuous campaign against bathroom access for transgendered people.

To use a hackneyed escape clause, it's too early to say how the story of the Orlando massacre will play out. It could fuel the rush to fear-mongers like Trump; engender a growing recognition of the reality of homophobia; or rekindle the drive for some sensible gun control legislation. Sadly, I'm betting on the first of these three possibilities, at least in the short term.  

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6 comments:

  1. Just how mass murder became an act of religious piety is beyond me.

    Don't extrapolate the statements of some members of the Republican party to cover all of us. The party is a big tent and there is room for all sorts of opinions. We don't have to follow a party line.

    The corner stone of conservatism is that we all get to make up our own minds on issues. If you are not happy with the trajectory of the party, you cannot change it from outside. You have to be in it to change it.

    Robert Gill
    Phoenix, Arizona

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  2. Robert: I think you made this point regarding another one of political rants, and I appreciate your point. For example, on immigration, Jeb and W. Bush both had quite progressive views. John McCain, believe it or not, once co-sponsored a bill with the late Ted Kennedy to implement some common sense immigration reform. There is a group of gay Republicans called the Log Cabin Republicans, members of which I met in Chicago. A quite conservative congresswoman from the Miami area is an advocate for the rights of transgendered people (probably because of one of her sons transgendered from a woman). So you're right, there are all kinds of views within the GOP.

    Problem is, in my opinion, that over the past ten or fifteen years, a certain orthodoxy has dominated the views of the party, sometimes to its own detriment. After Romney's loss to Obama, the RNC did a study that indicated that the party need to bring its views on immigration more to the center, if nothing else to try capture some of the Hispanic vote. That hasn't happened: Rubio and McCain tried to introduce some immigration reform and both cut and ran.

    But anyway, I appreciate and understand your comments about not painting all Republicans with the same brush.

    al

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  3. The immigration issue is a problem to be resolved, not an issue to be exploited. We have about eleven or twelve million people trapped in this situation. We need to find a way to legalize them. Not an amnesty, but an indulto.
    Ronald Reagan realized this. But the government never followed up with border security and a reform of the immigration laws.
    We need to do it over again, but this time do it correctly. No way could we ever deport that many people without ruining the economies of the nations involved.
    It is sad to see some family put everything into a child's education and then the child cannot get a job because they lack the appropriate immigration documents.

    Robert Gill

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  4. As always, your posts are thoughtful, and insightful.

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  5. Thanks for your post. Still trying to process this horrific event, and doing what I can to address homophobia, especially within the Hispanic/Latino church.

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    1. Mine are admittedly superficial observations from a foreigner's point of view living in a relatively cosmopolitan part of Mexico, but I've been surprised by the increasing tolerance of gay people in the country. Even President Peña Nieto recently proposed legalizing same-sex marriage. And this weekend Stew and I and a couple of friends are going to the pride parade in Mexico City, which is an enormous event with hundreds of thousands people attending. Mexico's Catholic Church though remains as retrograde as ever on the issue and I doubt that the evangelical, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist and other smaller churches sprouting everywhere are any more open minded.

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