The silence has been deafening.
My dear fellow Catholics, your silence screams; our ears are ringing.
Tragedy has struck. Yes, much needs to be grieved; and yes, I know everyone grieves in their own way. Yet there are two kinds of silence, one unlike the other.
There’s the silence of grief – the ear-ringing shell-shock as you beg your tumultuous surroundings just a moment more to get your bearings. This silence is at least human (all too human) and understandable. It’s Christ falling to his knees at the news of his cousin’s death: “He wept” (John 11:35).
There’s another kind of silence, a more pernicious one. It’s the silence of barely-masked guilt disguised as barely-masking contempt and indifference. It’s the silence of bystanders: priests and scribes going on their way and ignoring the Samaritan in the dirt. It’s the kind of omission of which Christ said: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).
I hope, dear brothers and sisters, your silence is of the first kind. You are Catholic. You are joined to Christ and share in his priesthood, prophethood, and kingship. You are bound, sworn, and under the most sacred obligation to preach, prophecy, and protect. Why leave the work to the stones when God gave you flesh, blood and a voice?
In the meanwhile as you crouch in your barren, pregnant quiet; while you chew on your thoughts for a moment longer; it might be good to reflect on what just happened, and consider which prophetic words (when at last you open your mouth) will come forth.
1. The victims of the Orlando Shooting were predominantly Latinx LGBTQ individuals.
The most obvious yet (incredibly!) sidestepped fact about the Orlando Shooting is the venue. The shooter targeted Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub. Despite the bizarre fumbling attempts of some on the far right to sidestep, deny or even celebrate this fact, the reality is clear. Whether or not this was a terrorist attack in the popular sense of the term, it was clearly a hate crime and incontrovertibly the largest killing in the U.S. of LGBT individuals.
In addition, of those killed, 90% were Hispanic.
This wasn’t just an “attack on Americans.” This was a targeting of LGBTQ and Hispanic people in the U.S.
This obvious fact shouldn’t need to be emphasized, yet here we are.
2. The shooter Omar Mateen was immersed in a culture of hate.
On Sunday June 12, 2016, American-born Omar Mateen conducted the worst mass shooting in American history. This isn’t only the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9-11, but also the worst hate crime to date . The investigation into Mateen’s motives is still ongoing, but we already have enough information to know this wasn’t a simple act of terror.
During the attack Mateen supposedly called the police pledging his loyalty to ISIS. The reaction on the right is uniform: the massacre is first and foremost an act of war against the U.S. However, it’s become clear that Mateen not only had no official affiliation with ISIS, but at previous times had pledged alignment with the Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston bombing and al-Qaeda (Sunni Muslims unaffiliated with ISIS), and at another point Hezbollah (the Lebanese Shiite group). All three of these groups are in opposition to each other, demonstrating that Mateen had no clear allegiance or even a grasp of their core ideologies. This is not to mention his father’s support of the Afghan Taliban.
His exposure to radical violent ideologies – a whole mess of them without a coherent denominational or ideological focus point – came through the internet and the hateful rhetoric he was exposed to there. He wasn’t a trained militiaman of the American caliphate; he was an American man radicalized by mimetic hatred on American soil.
The hateful ideologies he was exposed to fueled an already turbulent personality. His coworkers and ex-wife stated that he was abusive and prone to outbursts of violence. Even his school teacher once told his father that if Mateen kept on bulling other children, “he’s going to end up shot.”
His father observed that his son was extremely homophobic and flew into a rage at the sight of two gay men kissing: “We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry. They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’” While the father’s trustworthiness is questionable, Mateen’s ex-wife confirmed this: “There were definitely moments when he’d express his intolerance towards homosexuals,” she said, and elsewhere: “he did feel very strongly about homosexuality.” A coworker said he used racial and sexual slurs frequently.
Before the shooting, Micah Bass, owner of the gay nightclub M Hotel and Revere, received a facebook friend request from what turned out to be Mateen. It appears that Mateen was scoping out local gay clubs before the attack. It’s notable that he selected these particular venues, and not one of the many densely-packed theme parks in the area.
The portrait that emerges is not of a coordinated ISIS attack on a symbol of U.S. democracy; it’s that of an unhinged man who channeled the toxic homophobic (and racist) sentiments of his (American) surroundings into a murderous rampage.
3. Omar Mateen possibly internalized deep self-loathing.
The simple image of an anti-American jihadist is further muddied by the question of Mateen’s sexuality. While Pulse club owner denies that Mateen ever frequented the club, several of the survivors and regulars claim to have seen him there, as well as on gay dating apps. His ex-wife says he never told her he was gay, although she admits he could have been hiding this from her, and that he admitted vaguely to a past nightlife. His father says he doesn’t think his son was a “whatever you call it.”
No doubt as time goes on this facet of the issue will become clearer, but in the meantime we’re faced with the distinct possibility that Mateen acted not only out of externalized, but also internalized, homophobia.
This is significant because it demonstrates the incalculable damage done to an individual’s psyche, and in this case to the world at large, by the virulent anti-LGBTQ hatred that all LGBTQ individuals internalize in some form or another.
4. The Orlando Shooting shouldn’t surprise us in the least.
To those who aren’t LGBT, the targeting of a gay club seems incidental and strange.For us who live every day as LGBT Americans, it’s anything but.
The night before the Orlando attack, my coworker and I received a string of homophobic and transphobic phone calls at our place of employment. The anonymous caller made vague threats to come into the store that night, and we had to notify the police and security.
The caller sounded particularly unhinged and vitriolic, but how different was his tirade than the countless slurs and verbal attacks I’ve experienced in public transit on my way to work? It was certainly less violent than the time a dear friend of mine (also a trans woman) was attacked by a mob at a supermarket. Another friend of mine has had bricks thrown at her. Yet another once woke up on the LA beach after having been nearly beaten to death.
This nearly universal experience of violent discrimination (differing only in degrees) – and its recent manifestation in Orlando – is supported by the historical record. In 1973 the gay bar UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans was destroyed by arsonists, and 32 people died with many others injured. Around the same time (1973-74), arsonists set fire to LGBT churches in LA, Nashville, Santa Monica, and San Francisco. In 1988 Richard Lee Bednarski lured in and murdered two young gay men, and was let off the hook with only 30 years because, as the judge (who was cleared of bias charges) put it: “I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level, and I’d be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute” and “I don’t care much for queers cruising the streets.” Across the pond, in 1999 London’s gay pub Admiral Duncan was bombed by a neo-nazi, killing 3 and injuring 70. In 2000 a gay bar in Roanoke, VA called Backstreet Café was attacked by a rampaging man. In Dec of 2013 Musab Mohammaed Masmari set fire to the stairway of a gay nightclub in Seattle.
There are many more attacks besides, but I want to highlight one in particular. In 1997 Eric Rudolph bombed the Otherside Lounge, an LGBT bar in Atlanta. The bomber also bombed an Atlanta abortion clinic. His rationale for the bombing was, to quote his confession statement, that: “when the attempt is made to drag [homosexuality] out of the closet… every effort should be made, including force if necessary, to halt this effort” and this “homosexual agenda… Whether it is gay marriage, homosexual adoption, hate crimes laws including gays, or the attempt to introduce a homosexual normalizing curriculum into our schools, all of these efforts should be ruthlessly opposed.”
Much of the logic of his confession statement – which amounts to something of a manifesto – could be direct quotes of what I heard at the dinner table or family reunions and from the pulpit growing up.
In addition to the many mass attacks against the LGBTQ community, countless individuals have been targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.In 1998 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was killed by two men he met at a Laramie bar. In 1993 transman Brandon Teena was murdered by two “friends” after they discovered he was trans. In 1999, Pfc. Barry Winchell was murdered for dating now-activist and trans woman Calpernia Addams. In Feb. of 2008 15 year old gay boy Lawrence King was shot in the head by his 14 year old classmate Brandon McInerny because he had a crush on him. In 2013 Mark Carson was lured into a Manhattan alley and shot. These are just a smattering.
In the first half of 2016 alone, 14 transgender individuals have been murdered. Their names are “Goddess” Diamond (New Orleans, LA), Amos Beede (Burlington, VT), Mercedes Successful (Haines City, FL), Reecey Walker (Wichita, KA), Keyonna Blakeney (Rockville, MD), Shante Isaac (Houston, TX), Quartney Davia Dawsonn-Yochum (Los Angeles, CA), Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson (Burlington, IA), Demarkis Stansberry (Baton Rouge, LA), Maya Young (Philadelphia, PA), Veronica Banks Cano (Philadelphia, PA), Kayden Clarke (Mesa, AZ), Jasmine Sierra (Bakersfield, CA), and Monica Loera (Austin, TX).
Unfortunately, the question isn’t “how could the Orlando shooting happen?” The question is how it took so long for the hatred to coalesce into such a singular death toll.
5. The silence hasn’t really been broken.
In the face of such vicious hatred against LGBT individuals, what does the Church have to say? The Catechism is clear about anti-LGBT discrimination: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (2358). But what of Orlando specifically?
The Holy See Press Office commented that the massacre had “caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation.” Following the Pope’s lead, multiple American bishops responded in kind. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, decried the violence. He was joined in his vague sentiments by Bishops John Noonan of Orlando, James Conley of Lincoln, and William Lori of Baltimore. Vigils were held, like that of St. Mark Catholic Church in Richmond to mourn the “women and men who were mowed down on Sunday morning.”
In all these public statements (at least admirable in their grief), there was a conspicuous missing piece. None of these Catholic leaders mentioned that the targets were LGBT people at a gay bar. There’s no acknowledgement of that fact at any point. The Vatican’s press release very avoidantly called the venue “a crowded nightclub.” Yes, but not just any nightclub.
So far there are only two bishops to mention LGBT people at all. Archibship Cupich of Chicago reached out to the archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach and said: “For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”
The second bishop was Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL. Of him I’ll speak later.
Besides these two leaders, the Catholic corner has been unbearably silent on the issue. In my own news feed none of my Catholic news or theology sources have addressed the issue thus far, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed this.
Where is the outcry? Where’s even the basic observation of the victims’ identity?
6. Bishop Robert Lynch is right.
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL said in a particularly stirring blog post that “sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”
Denying, or even skirting around, Christianity’s role in this spiritual holocaust looks plain silly to those of us caught in the crossfire. The entire LGBT community is standing in solidarity with our Muslim siblings not only because we’re tired of violence and scapegoating (having been subjected to it ourselves). It’s also because we’ve seen bullets come at us from every which direction, including yours. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – or a smoking gun, as the case may be.
To those of you nestled in the trenches of an anti-gay culture war, I hope that Orlando extends your vision past the fog-of-war. Conspiracies of an LGBT cabal hell-bent on ruling America and destroying the nuclear family start to sound (appropriately) silly in the face of reality. It’s a reality that all LGBT people in America live every day and have for decades. It’s a reality attested to by our lives: how we’ve been thrown (sometimes physically) out of homes and churches, subjected to psychologically traumatizing pseudo-scientific anti-therapy, and barraged with spiteful, demonizing rhetoric from childhood on up.
I understand those who shrink back from Bishop Lynch’s exhortation are full of pious intent. They feel scapegoated, unjustly blamed for the actions of a man they are (at least broadly) ideologically opposed to. They feel like their Mother Church is under attack.
But it’s not about a blame game. It’s not about equity or finding someone to sue. In short, it’s not about you.
It’s about getting to the root of the problem. It’s about figuring out why, again and again, LGBT people receive the brunt of such violence.
Omar Mateen may have been a lunatic psychopath, but he barreled along a track already laid out for him. The man who called my store last Saturday may have had anger management issues, but he learned where to direct that anger from his environment. What environment are you, my fellow Catholics, creating toward LGBT people? What environment are you really creating? And I mean: really. What do you do? What do you say? What of it is concrete and not just platitudes? “Love the sinner but hate the sin,” you say. But few of us have experienced you loving the sinner, laying down your life for the sinner, doing something other than shooting spittle at the sinner.
In the course of even recent months I’ve been told by fellow Catholics that I’m perverted, insane, demon possessed, a fetishist, part of an evil agenda, and not unlike a lizard crawling on all fours. I wonder how different this is from the thoughts that went through Mateen’s head as he shot up the club?
You can talk about “tough love” all you want, but the shooter probably thought he was giving this country some “tough love.”
7. We hear the silence.
Some LGBT Catholic friends of mine and I recently participated in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, sung in honor of the Orlando victims. At the end many local religious leaders, mostly Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, came forward with prayers for the dead.
The absence of a Catholic priest did not go unnoticed.
That night we turned to each other nearly simultaneously over drinks to bemoan this great, terrible silence. It’s a silence that slices us open and bleeds us out.
We hear you. We hear what might be your apathy, your discomfort, your unwillingness to say our names. We hear it loud and clear. We hear our own invisibility, the lack of impression we make, even as 49 corpses. We understand how little you want us, how little you want to commune with us, how little you want to even look us in the eye. After all, saying our name is far easier than looking us head-on, and you can do neither.
I hope your silence is a pregnant pause full of imminent prophecy. I hope you have something good to say, full of comfort, exhortation, and names.
I hope when you finally open your mouth, we’ll be proven wrong.