Orlando: At the Intersection of Oppressions

What do GBLTQ people, Latin@s, and Muslims have in common? All of us are more afraid because of the shootings early Sunday morning in Orlando.

The selection of a gay nightclub on Latin Night as a terrorist target wove a complicated web to untangle.

A week earlier, the Orlando queer community had celebrated Pride. Suddenly, the exuberance and delight of Pride dissolved into shock, pain, sorrow and fear. An attack on a gay nightclub is not just an attack on a nightclub. Historically, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people found their identity in bars. The movement that grew out of Stonewall Inn in 1969 concentrated in bars and clubs. These were the safe spaces, the places people could be themselves without fear, or at least with less fear. (I could talk about the benefits and drawbacks of this history, but will check myself from that digression.) To have a gay bar attacked was a frontal assault on queer community. And when we say, “It could have been here; it could have been us,” we often say it with memories of other events – of beatings outside gay bars, of bars we know burned in arson attacks. All the past homophobic remarks and threats loom, triggered by the shootings.

Then, reading the list of names and looking at the faces projected across the internet reminds us how deeply affected the Latin community was. Ninety percent of the victims were Latino/a/x. Orlando, like all of Florida, has a strong Latin@ community, especially among Puerto Ricans, and it was Latin night at Pulse, with merengue and salsa and bachata. Of course, that attracted young Latino gay men, frequent objects not only of homophobia, but also of racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, even those who are native-born. Latin@s, then, are grieving deeply.

This event also casts a shadow over Muslims in the middle of their Ramadan celebration. Once again, Islamic groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had to rush to distinguish themselves and ordinary Muslims from terrorists. Mir Seddique, the attacker’s father, proclaimed, “This had nothing to do with religion.” Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for the presidency proclaims the need to keep Muslims out of the country. And the argument goes on over the term “Islamic terrorism.”

The shooter himself seemed confused, at best, about Islamic ties, as he swore allegiance to groups that oppose one another. His motives are not easily discerned. Self-radicalized, he also has histories of domestic violence, mental illness and racism, in addition to his FBI interviews. Media are reporting that he may have been gay himself! Since he, too, is dead, the motives will be impossible to confirm definitively.

Different communities have different angles on the story. Different people with their mingled identities develop their own views. Sorting it all out will take months, if not years. We don’t even have a common label for this atrocity – hate crime, terrorist act, mass shooting. Each of the phrases holds its own connotations and nuance. Each carries its particular implications. We have to be careful as we read, as we listen, as we think, to understand where each may carry us. We have to be especially careful as we speak to say what we mean to say, and not to accidentally distort our ideas by speaking imprecisely.

For the moment, what we can do is mourn, comfort those who are mourning, and search for the courage to counter the fears we have so that we are not reacting to violence, but instead acting consciously and choicefully with love and compassion in our hearts and reason and nonviolent strategies focused in our minds. In that way, we will stand on the side of love with all the oppressed who have been touched by this horrific event.

As UUA President Peter Morales said, “May all people of good will, people of all faiths and no faith, renew our determination to end racism, end demonization of those of other faiths, end homophobia, and create a society where access to lethal weapons has some rational control. Otherwise we will wait helplessly for the next atrocity.”

In faith and freedom,


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