By Tom Mcelholm
Correspondent, History Undergraduate Student
Google shows us what the world thinks. It shows us that we see Orlando as a segway into debate about debate about: gun control, Islam and psychology. Facebook shows us what our friends feel. My friends feel a sense of loss and grievance. Debate about gun control is necessary just as a display of solidarity is, and if you can’t make it to a vigil then Facebook is appropriate. After those displays of solidarity though it is important to build towards preventing this happening again.
But we don’t do this by simply banning guns as a misguided Julia Hartley-Brewer implied, instead we do it by understanding. If we understand that Omar Mateen’s attack wasn’t out of the blue and that it was a part of a larger culture of hate with various levels of danger and intent then we can do more to combat it. The UK and the US have a culture of casual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. This culture makes people feel legitimised in committing hate crimes and encourages self-harm in the LGBT community. Casual hate is something habitual, like an off-the-cuff comment, and it is so easy to change. If we are going to take anything from Orlando it should be a greater awareness of how we unintentionally contribute to that culture of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
The immediate response to Orlando, beyond grief, was its manipulation by news outlets and politicians to incorporate it into wider debates, sidestepping the fact it was an anti-LGBT attack. The media took the debate to Islam and to gun control. Debate is important in democracies; the least it does is to help educate us. But it is also important to acknowledge the attack for what it was: a hate crime. If Omar Mateeson didn’t hate the LGBT community then this attack wouldn’t have been carried out: guns may account for the scale but the hate accounts for the crime.
If we are to prevent this type of attack being carried out again it is important to understand homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, because Orlando wasn’t abstract, and it wasn’t without precedent. If we get a greater awareness of how we as individuals contribute to the wider culture of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia then we can take steps to lessen our contribution. Debates on gun control take years; choosing different words or making different jokes takes seconds.
Guns may account for the scale but hate accounts for the crime itself.
Thankfully, most people in our society today don’t like homophobes; it’s rarely seen as a desirable trait, and for most its at best a tolerable one. Despite this there are still a lot of homophobic jokes made on nights out even in St. Andrews – every Sinners I have gone to I have encountered or been the target of homophobia. I think the main reason casual homophobia persists is because people don’t fully appreciate the impact it has on people. An overheard homophobic remark can push somebody over the edge: LGB are four times as likely to attempt suicide, LGBT are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and as a result 25 percent of transgendered youth attempt suicide.
These stats exist because a casual homophobic remark is an assault on a sensitive part of somebody’s identity. This is important knowledge because it helps us to think about the true impact about the jokes we are making in public and so hopefully helps us to stop making them. It is crucial we stop making these jokes in public not just because it is responsible for stark suicide and depression rates but because it makes actual homophobes feel legitimised when they carry out hate crimes. Orlando was a hate crime and it wasn’t an isolated incident: in America the LGBT community is the second largest targets of hate crimes despite only making up 3.5 percent of the population.
Now it is often said that people shouldn’t let homophobia, biphobia or transphobia ‘get to them’ and that those who worry about it should ‘lighten up’. But such a reaction fails to realise how big a part of someone’s identity his or her sexuality or gender can be. It also fails to take into account the context they are hearing the joke in. For them their sexuality or gender may have been the source of viscous bullying at school or them being ostracised from family life, so the joke is far bigger than that moment. The reason I mention this again is to give us a greater awareness and understanding of how casual remarks are received in the hope that we will think about where we are and who we are talking to before making them. If we can do this we can combat the culture of hate that makes people like Omar Mateen feel legitimised.
In America the LGBT community is the second largest targets of hate crimes despite only making up 3.5 percent of the population
In society we have a responsibility to one another, to protect and look after one another. The society we live in is one in which LGB people are seven times more likely to use drugs, in which suicide and self-harm rates in the LGBT community are disproportionately high and it is a society in which transgendered people have been refused medical care or even assaulted in doctor’s offices. These are the statistics of a society in which people are not looking after each other. So if we can take anything away from Orlando it is a reminder that hate still exists; that despite the victories won by heterosexuals, lesbians, bisexual, gay and transgendered people for the LGBT community there is still bigotry and there is still violence.
Expressions of solidarity mean a lot but they are ultimately brief. The most effective thing we can do as a society to limit hatred for others and ourselves is to have awareness. The way to combat hatred is not to refer to Omar Mateen as a ‘dreg of humanity’ (Owen Jones); it is not to fight hate with more hate. The way to combat hatred is to understand it, realise what we can do to change it, and then continue to build an inclusive and safe society: one step at a time.