On Sunday night, British political commentator, journalist and author Owen Jones stormed off the set of SkyNews’ newspaper reviews show during a discussion about the shooting of 50 people at a gay Latino club night in Orlando, Florida. As a gay man, Jones was offended by the host Mark Longhurst’s suggestion that we “delineate” between the Orlando massacre as a terrorist attack and homophobic attack, as though it must be one or the other. Drawing an apt analogy, Jones told Longhurst and his fellow panellist Julia Hartley-Brewer, “If he [the Orlando shooter] went into a synagogue and killed innocent Jewish people [...] we’d call it out for what it is.” Owen Jones did well to remind us it’s not incidental that this attack was focussed on an LGBT venue, of all the clubs in Orlando. He also pointed to reports that suspected shooter Omar Mateen‘s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News that his son apparently became angry after seeing men kissing in Miami a few months ago. Longhurst attempted to argue that the attack was an assault on “the freedom of all people trying to enjoy themselves." This fell flat, because – well, as a friend put it quite simply this morning – this attack was “far too specific.”
You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.
Owen’s anger on SkyNews was palpable, and the moment that this stood out the strongest for me was when he told Longhurst: “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.” Some people will have seen this as the moment Jones floundered, others might think it sounded like a schoolyard retort. But crucially, this is the moment when Jones made it sound like gay people have the right to see this attack differently. And from where I’m standing, they do. As I scroll through my personal social media feed today, as I talk to my gay friends about what happened, and when I think about the attack myself as someone who identifies as gay, it is clear that LGBT people are taking Orlando personally. “50 LGBT brothers and sisters slaughtered in the Pulse Club in Orlando”, wrote transgender journalist Shon Faye on Facebook yesterday. “What has happened in Orlando today is a sign that contrary to how it might be presented, the safety of queer people is always under threat”, writes London drag queen Amrou Al-Kadhi. “Homophobia still exists, and this weekend's attacks should serve as a reminder to our community that we still have so much to do,” writes gay filmmaker Ashley Joiner.
To be clear: This isn’t about who cares more. It's about resonance.
My straight friends’ walls remain largely devoid of responses. To be clear: This isn’t about who cares more. If you listen to SkyNews carefully, Jones (ever articulate) also makes it abundantly obvious that this argument isn’t about ownership. It’s not a competition or a case of “this has affected me more than you”. Rather, it’s about resonance. And the reason this attack resonates so strongly with LGBT people is not just because we can so easily imagine ourselves in that club on Saturday night – anyone could imagine that – it’s because we are a historically oppressed community; and you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. Gay solidarity exists not just because each and every LGBT person has experienced homophobia first hand, but because, when you’re gay, it can be difficult to feel a sense of belonging to anything else. It can be hard to reconcile your homosexuality with a sense of nationalism once you become aware that the State only decriminalised homosexuality in 1967. It can be hard to reconcile your homosexuality with religion, when religions like Islam and Christianity tend to preach that homosexuality is wrong. No wonder so many gay people find their sense of belonging in the gay community. This is, I think, what Jones is talking about when he says “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.”
Where is Facebook’s rainbow flag filter for the biggest massacre of LGBT people in recent history?
From my point of view, the downplaying of this attack as homophobic is evident beyond the SkyNews debacle. The Times and Sun newspapers omitted references to the fact the club was gay in their headlines this morning. Mention of the atrocity is notably absent from the Daily Mail’s front page today, which instead focusses on the Queen's birthday and the "Fury Over Plot To Let 1.5 Mil Turks Into Britain." And where is Facebook’s rainbow flag filter for the biggest massacre of LGBT people in recent history?
Perhaps this is part of the reason that, tonight at 7pm, there will be a London vigil for those who died in the Orlando shooting on Old Compton Street in Soho. It’s not a coincidence that this is home to some of London’s longest standing gay clubs, just as Jones, myself, and a lot of my gay friends do not view it as a coincidence that the Orlando shooting was targeted at gay people, in a gay club. The vigil – which will be likely attended by gay people and straight people – is about bodies on the street showing the likes of Mark Longhust and Julia Hartley-Brewer and anyone else who might show indifference to the fact that this was a homophobic attack that, actually, a great number of people see it as one. We see it as connected to the stabbing of six people at Jerusalem Gay Pride last August (Reuters). The murder of 10 trans people in America in the first five months of this year (The Advocate). And the 5,597 homophobic hate crimes recorded in Britain between 2014-2015 (The Independent). Clearly, homophobia is still rampant, and in the face of such a specific type of atrocity as Orlando, it is comforting to see politicised LGBT people mobilising to make noise about this problem. If any good can come of the evil that took place in Florida, it’s that it will serve as a brutal reminder that the fight for tolerance of all people – gay, straight, Latino, Muslim – is a battle far from won. In the days that follow, there is one thing I’d like to see on social media, though. And it’s more discussion of the fact that gay lives matter.