As the world tries to make sense of the massacre of 49 innocent individuals at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week, the global outpouring of support for the community, the victims and their families has been heartwarming. Sadly, in a time that calls for us to transcend our differences, there are still voices — a minority no doubt, but they are nonetheless heard — that seek to divide, to blame, and to hurt.
Hours after the Sunday morning shooting, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in his great wisdom explained to all of us why 49 people had been slaughtered and dozens injured: “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows,” he wrote on his personal Twitter account.
Amid harsh criticism, the staunch social conservative, who is against same-sex marriage and any form of protection against anti-gay discrimination, deleted the Tweet. A spokesman for Mr. Patrick denied the post was in any way related to the Orlando shooting. The denial would have more credibility were it not for the fact that religious conservatives almost always blame the “sin” of homosexuality for large-scale murder. Fifteen years ago Christian conservatives Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson suggested that homosexuals were partly responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. “God will not be mocked,” Robertson said, a striking foreshadowing of the language used by Mr. Patrick in his recent Tweet.
Meanwhile, Steven Anderson, a preacher at the Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona, had this to say about the massacre in Orlando: “The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles. That’s who was a victim here, are a bunch of, just, disgusting homosexuals at a gay bar, okay?”
According to these enlightened individuals, gays somehow deserved to be murdered; massacring them was not only “good news,” it was a cleansing act, as the very existence of gays, or society’s support for their rights, are a threat to society. Note also the typical equating of homosexuality with pedophilia, as if the two were in any way related or one the logical conclusion of the other. And such preachers are supposed to teach us about good values, about love! Man’s ability to be malicious is befuddling. Surely those individuals, as they type their Tweets or draft their sermons, must at some point have a moment where their conscience tells them that pressing the send button, or opening their mouth, is the wrong thing to do. And yet…
It hits home. When they use such language, they advocate for the murder of my own mother, who is happily married to a wonderful woman; they also target other people’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends.
Taiwan is not exempt from such bigotry. Conservative organizations, such as the Protect the Family Alliance, which opposes legalizing same-sex unions and discriminates against the LGBTQI community, has also positioned homosexuality as a sin and threat to the very fabric of society, using the same pedophilia and bestiality tropes as the worst of the worst back in Western countries. They, too, contribute to turning a minority into the “other,” a stigmatization that turns them into viable targets for unhinged minds.
In a Facebook post (pictured above) following the Orlando mass murder, one Taiwanese derided the fact that so many people could be killed without resisting. According to him, this all happened because homosexuals are, after all, “sissies” who only cower and don’t fight back. Again, implicitly, they deserved to die because they were not “manly” enough. Never mind that not all victims were homosexuals; in fact the youngest one, 22, was heterosexual, but he, too, apparently reaped what he sowed by befriending homosexuals. It also doesn’t seem to occur to that person that when Omar Mateen opened fire using his Sig Sauer MCX rifle (it wasn’t an AR-15 as many have claimed), he did so in a closed environment that made escape nearly impossible. Plus, Mateen had the advantage of surprise; normally people don’t open fire using a weapon designed for U.S. Special Operations forces at nightclubs. The manufacturer of the MCX calls it a “groundbreaking tactical rifle.” It is a weapon of war. The people inside the Pulse didn’t stand a chance; their sexual orientation had nothing to do with whether they lived or died.
Such views remind me of claims by retired U.S. General John Sheehan, a former NATO military commander, that gays in the Dutch military were partly responsible for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Muslim men were slaughtered by Bosnian forces, the largest mass slaughter on European soil since World War II. According to Sheehan’s logic, not only were gay soldiers less capable of fighting, they had sapped morale. Once again, gays were to blame for something.
Contrast this victimizing view of the world with a blog post by Orlando Bishop Robert Lynch, who argued this week that Catholicism “targets” and “often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.” The resulting contempt, he adds, generates hatred, “which can ultimately lead to violence.” If such views are not changed, “we can expect more Orlandos.”
Indeed, it is the seeds of such discrimination, the slippery slope of de-humanization, that turn a segment of society into pariahs. It is this hatred that gives ammunition to the deranged minds, whether adherents to the Islamic State’s extremist ideology or Christian fundamentalists, who feel the compunction to weed out the supposed sin and sinners (for an example of such extremism in Singapore, see this post). As long as we countenance such views, and as long as members of various Churches do not fight back such language and ideology, there indeed will be more Orlandos, and we will all be partly responsible for the ensuing massacres. In my book, freedom of speech ends at the mark where its continuation fosters the selected targeting of others based on their gender, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation.
In silence we are just as guilty as those who use the alphabet of bigotry to create an environment in which it is permissible for some to repress minority groups.