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)|
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.