By Kitty Turpin
Photo by Marziya Mohammedali
On the morning of Saturday 12 June at 2:02am a lone gunman entered Orlando’s best known gay nightclub, Pulse, and opened fire on unsuspecting LGBTQ+ club goers. 49 people died and 53 were injured. The attack was called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S history.
This attack couldn’t have come at a worse time, in the month of June, which is across countries considered Pride month. No matter how many politicians label this crime a terrorist attack “on every one of us” (Malcolm Turnbull), you cannot deny the Pulse Orlando shooting was a homophobic hate crime, intended to instill fear specifically in the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2015, the United Nations reported “violence motivated by homophobia and transphobia is often particularly brutal, and in some instances characterised by levels of cruelty exceeding that of other hate crimes.” Within the report thousands of attacks on LGBTQ+ people were documented from over the last few years. The reports of such attacks and planned attacks are still apparent in everyday news. For example the attempted attack on the LA Gay Pride Parade only a day after the Orlando shooting. The sheer amount of attacks that are still happening to the LGBTQ+ community highlight the amount of homophobia that is still apparent in today’s society.
As Orlando hospitals desperately called for blood donations, and hundreds of people queued to answer the call, gay men were barred from potentially saving their friends due to the laws, entrenched in homophobic stigma from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, that men must wait one year after sexual contact with another man to donate blood. This is better than the pre-2012 laws that permanently banned gay men from donating blood, but still meant those who were sexually active could not donate. These laws in particular were a slap to the face of the LGBTQ+ community after facing such a tragedy.
Though the LGBTQ+ community has been hit hard by this attack, they certainly have not let it discourage them to continue being out and proud of who they are, with Pride events going ahead across the U.S, and the world, during Pride month.
Here in Perth a candle lit vigil for the victims was held in the Perth Cultural Centre. Around 100 people gathered, holding candles, to pay their respects to those killed and injured in the Pulse Orlando shooting. There was a quiet and respectful atmosphere to the vigil, with not a hint of illumination from a phone or conversation to be heard.
In Orlando, two weeks after the tragedy, Pulse held a Latin night street party, three kilometers away from the boarded up club. Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse, said in a statement: “We need to show that we are strong, that Pulse continues and that we appreciate all the help the community has shown us.” The event inevitably became a celebration of life, survival, family and solidarity.
Regular attacks on the LGBTQ+ community across the world are particularly worrying for Australia with our, so far, reluctance to introduce a marriage equality act. Senator Penny Wong has voiced her doubts about a plebiscite on marriage equality, which Malcolm Turnbull has insisted on going through with, saying that it would “license hate speech to those who need little encouragement.” As we cast our eyes to Britain, and #Brexit, we see the decline into anarchic racist and violent tendencies shown by the divide in the community due to their referendum. We can only hope that if the plebiscite goes ahead, it will not follow this trend.
Often those who do not identify as LGBTQ+ forget why gay pride celebrations are needed, and should be commemorated yearly. It’s attacks like these that remind us why we still need to stand with those in the LGBTQ+ community. Now more than ever.