Like many people, I have been greatly disturbed by the violent attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I think there are multiple layers to the story that include: gun regulations in the United States of America, terrorism, homophobia, and the unwillingness of people to tolerate difference.
There is a picture of two kids circulating the internet that reads, “One child is holding something that’s been banned in America to protect them. Guess which one.” The photograph shows a boy holding a Kinder egg (a chocolate treat with a toy hidden inside) and a girl holding an assault rifle. I find this picture both poignant and provocative. Really, how is it possible that people are being stopped at the border and having their Kinder eggs confiscated but others can obtain a semiautomatic weapon?!
It seems absolutely absurd to me that a civilian in the US can obtain a military grade firearm more easily than a driver’s license, an abortion, or a puppy, let alone someone who allegedly has a history of threatening to kill people, of physically abusing his former wife, and of voicing hatred of minorities including gay and Jewish people.
One of the articles I read about the attack reported that the shooter had declared allegiance to Islam and he allegedly consumed jihadist propaganda online. ISIS supporters have responded by praising the violence but whether this was an organized terrorist attack or a one-man vigilante hardly matters at this point. It does not change that 49 lives were cut short and another 53 were wounded.
It is deeply troubling to me that these acts of violence continue to occur and that the LGBT community must endure such ignorance and hate.
This incident has been referred to as the deadliest attack on the LGBT community in the US. That homophobia is so deeply ingrained that people feel they must remain in the closet for their own safety is telling. Reporters have informed the public that the shooter was a regular visitor to Pulse and that he frequented the nightclub up to twice a month for three years. Was this curiosity? Was this reconnaissance? Or was he filled with so much self-hatred due to his own sexual orientation that he took it out on those around him?
People seem desperate to find a solution to this kind of violence. In my mind there is no difference between the gun-toting, Bible thumping American extremist and the rifle holding, Koran reading radical. They are the same animal and both have to change their perspectives of one another in order for the violence to end.
The most popular suggestions are gun reform, fighting the war on terror, and treating people with respect – despite their differences. All are probably necessary, but we can start today by treating people with love and esteem.
To this end I would recommend mandatory parenting classes, relationship skills being taught in schools, and at a very minimum being civil to the folks you interact with. I believe the changes need to start at home. Teaching our children to love one another, being tolerant and respectful of people with other views, parenting with loving firmness rather than harshness are all excellent places to start. Although these ideas sound easy, I know as a human, and as a parent, that they are exquisitely difficult to execute. I’m not so naïve as to think all people will get along, hold hands, drink coke, and sing kumbaya – there is evil in the world. But I do believe that there would be more tolerance if only we were taught how.