Adagio for Orlando
Demonizing minorities is no response to tragedy.
The Capital Pride festival proceeded Sunday (June 12) on Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol in the shadow of hate-fueled violence. Pride weekend was underway when the awful news from Orlando hit. We reeled from the greatest mass shooting in American history while staffing Pride booths, hosting out-of-town guests, expressing our freedom. The backlash has always been with us. We mourn. We remember. We fight on. We celebrate our resilient capacity for joy.
Broadway’s big night went on amid the specter of death. “America is what we the people make of it,” said First Lady Michelle Obama via tape at the Tony Awards as she and the President described the musical Hamilton, which won eleven awards including three for black actors playing white figures from the American Revolution. In a performance from the show, Daveed Diggs as Lafayette said to Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, “Immigrants: we get the job done!”
The cheers for that line contrasted starkly with efforts by conservatives, who made a renewed attack on immigrants, unfazed by the fact that the Orlando shooter was born and raised in America. Killers who are white and Christian are portrayed as mentally ill. Those from racial or religious minorities are treated as emblematic of a threat to the homeland posed by the Other. The political arsonist who is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee poses as a firefighter coming to the rescue, echoing 1933 Germany.
Attempts at gay erasure by the media were quickly evident following the massacre. The original New York Times report failed to mention that Pulse is a gay venue. British columnist Owen Jones walked out of a Sky News interview when the host refused to acknowledge that the deadly attack was against gay people.
LGBT groups denounced hatred and organized vigils. BuzzFeed began posting the stories of the victims. President Obama, who ordered flags flown at half staff, once again found words for the unspeakable. In New York, people gathered outside the Stonewall Inn.
The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity stated, “This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community.” Gay Muslims cannot separate their gay selves from their Muslim selves. Those who dismiss intersectionality as liberal thought policing ignore the intersections we inhabit: Not only gay Muslims, black lesbians, and transgender women of color, but gay, white, and privileged. America is a nation of intersections.
The promotion of hate, and the use of religion as a cover for it, is not led in this country by Muslims. We must ensure that those who promote hate and thrive on it pay a price in political defeat for the great social harm they are doing.
Muslims are my neighbors and colleagues and friends. I have loved a Muslim. Muslims have died serving our country and rescuing people on 9/11. As you would treat them, treat me.
LGBT folk have been on the receiving end of group blame ourselves. As a community we cross all demographic lines. We must tell the scapegoaters: you will not do this in our name. All in our nation must confront hate-driven violence together. This cannot be used as the latest pretext by one intolerant segment of the population to push for supremacy.
When gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny used to talk about the “American Taliban,” he was not talking about Muslims. He was talking about what he called “nuttyfundamentalist” Christians. And let us be clear: we are not talking about Christians in general, any more than Islamist terrorists represent Muslims in general. A few decades back, when serial killer Ted Bundy was brought to justice for his murders of women, no one blamed white heterosexual men generally. Such slanders are reserved for minorities. It is up to us to combat hatred and ignorance in our daily lives, after the media spotlight moves on.
We grieve in many ways. I listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which author Thomas Larson calls “The Saddest Music Ever Written,” and try to imagine what the club goers faced that night. One fine response to an unfathomable loss is suggested by the desecrated venue beyond the police tape in Orlando. In hope and defiance, we dance.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Email Richard Rosendall