OutRight Action International is shocked and saddened by the deadly massacre at Latin Night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, and extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 49 people whose lives were taken and the more than 50 people injured.
These events were not only a tragedy for the LGBTIQ community in Orlando but for all humanity. Our way forward must emphasize community-building from a global perspective.
Some commentators have questioned whether the location of the attack — a gay nightclub — is relevant to understanding it. Omar Mateen’s decision to attack a gay nightclub, a safe place for LGBTIQ people to gather, timed during the Pride celebrations of June, cannot be extricated from the motivations and consequences of the attack. More LGBTIQ people were killed at Pulse than in any other known LGBTIQ bias-motivated attack in US history. Clearly, this was an act of hate and violence against LGBTIQ persons, our freedom of assembly, and our fundamental dignity.
The attack at Pulse nightclub is about more than ISIS — including the on-going violence experienced by LGBTIQ people in the US and the lack of gun safety. However, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the massacre, so we must examine ISIS’ conduct, put it in perspective, and consider it within the context of the threat of US military response.
The line between ISIS fighter and sympathizer is at best blurry and possibly irrelevant. Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS, and ISIS subsequently claimed responsibility. ISIS’ semi-official news agency, Amaq, claimed responsibility for the deaths, posting in English and Arabic, “The attack that targeted a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida, and that left more than 100 dead and wounded was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.” Al-bayan Radio, a station owned and operated by ISIS, broadcast, “One of the Caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida… where he killed and injured more than a hundred of them.”
Since December 2014, OutRight has documented more than 41 men accused of sodomy and killed by ISIS, according to ISIS’ own accounts. Prior to the deaths in Orlando, the highest number of men killed at one time by ISIS for sodomy, or a related charge, was four in July 2015 in Fallujah Province. Little is known about the men who were killed there, including whether they ever engaged in homosexual acts or personally identified as gay; ISIS does not provide substantiating information or charge victims in a court of law.
OutRight has observed that ISIS typically claims quick public responsibility for these killings, using social media as a central component in its campaign of terror. These acts of violence by ISIS exist on a continuum with its targeting of many vulnerable groups, a subject we discussed at an August 2015 meeting of the UN Security Council.
The coming days and weeks will bring mourning, information, and debate as we try to make sense of the most widespread loss of life in the US since 9/ 11. We caution against drawing harmful conclusions about Muslims from the recent attack. Conflating the actions of one person with the beliefs of an entire religion — or ISIS with Islam — is dangerous. OutRight stands in solidarity with Muslims everywhere. We refuse to allow the LGBTIQ community’s tragedy to be used to pit minorities against each other. LGBTIQ people, Muslims, LGBTIQ Muslims, and our allies must support one another and stand strong against bigotry and violence.
We must enact gun control and meaningful gun safety. The killings in Orlando were made possible by inadequate policies on gun control and gun safety. More than 32,000 Americans are shot to death every year — a higher rate than any other developed nation. Omar Mateen bought his weapons legally.
We must recognize that LGBTIQ people are not the only group targeted by ISIS, which has systematically attacked women and girls, Christians, Turkmanis, Kurds, and Yazidis. Anyone who violates ISIS’ fundamentalist notions of gender and sexuality or is deemed “inappropriate” is targeted in its apocalyptic worldview.
We cannot compromise the human rights of LGBTIQ people, and the tragic loss of life in Orlando must not be used to justify military action. The safety and security of LGBTIQ people in Iraq and Syria, within and beyond ISIS control, must be central in our response. Regional backlash and escalation of violence against those perceived as not conforming to traditional notions of gender and sexuality is a real danger.
The US government should investigate the application of the principles of universal jurisdiction to hold ISIS accountable if that group’s command responsibility is established in the case of Orlando. Due process should in all instances be upheld.
At OutRight, we understand the devastating attack in Orlando in the context of violence targeting LGBTIQ people in the US. While the scale of this massacre is unprecedented, violent crimes against the LGBTIQ community in the US are not. In 2015 alone, more than 21 transgender individuals were murdered in the US, most of whom were trans women of color. The Latino community in Orlando was on the frontlines of the attack at Pulse. Through holistic law, policy, and programming, aimed to promote non-discrimination and access to education, healthcare, and employment, we can put an end to these unacceptable levels of violence.
The tragedy of Orlando is a call to action: it underscores with heart-breaking clarity the need for a globalized understanding of current events and the place of LGBTI people in the global community. For those who thought that ISIS would only impact their lives in Iraq or Syria, we are with you. For those in Brussels and Paris who experienced violence at the hands of ISIS, we are with you. For those in the US who are newly members of this unwanted club, we are with you. It is time to channel our sorrow and anger into the best response: strong community-building. With LGBTIQ people, Muslims, LGBTIQ Muslims, and our allies globally, we must seek a peaceful and holistic strategy focused on community well-being to move us forward.
As we enter into this new era, I urge all — friends and allies — to reclaim this Pride Month! Show the world that we are not afraid, we will not hide, and we will not stand down… And to our friends who we have lost, may you always rest in power.
Jessica Stern is the executive director of OutRight Action International (outrightinternational.org), formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which advocates on behalf of LGBTIQ people worldwide.