Thoughts and Prayers: Hypocrisy in the Wake of the Pulse Shooting
I am walking the streets of Philadelphia at night, an atmosphere that can only truly be understood by experience. It’s early April so the air is chilled, but my goosebumps are distracted by views of skyscrapers illuminating the end of every avenue.
There’s a crowd of people, a line out the door of a building unfamiliar to me. I wait in it. When I enter the building, a man takes a creased ten dollar bill from between my fingers and politely stamps my hand. He has a nice smile.
The music is loud; the kind of loud that calls for communicating by screaming into the ear of the person next to you or hoping they know how to lip-read. I step forward and turn to the right to find a sea of people ordering drinks, singing, laughing.
There are shirtless, toned male bartenders. There are gay men kissing. There are straight girls dancing. There is a Hispanic man lip-syncing for the camera on his cell phone. There are black lesbian women wearing “female clothes” and black lesbian women wearing “male clothes.” There are transwomen in fabulous wigs and transmen leaned against the bar, chatting. There is a drunken Asian man swinging his t-shirt in circles above his head. They all are happy. They all are safe.
This is my first time at a gay bar.
Upstairs, the DJ plays pop songs that flow into one another as smoke blows out of the machines hanging from the ceiling. Everything goes white momentarily, but the adrenaline rush which follows is not one of fear; more so excitement, more so the unknown. My fiancé moves her hips as we dance together. We kiss. There are men everywhere, but none of them are staring at us and drooling. None of them are eyeing me from a few bodies away and sneaking closer to press up against me without asking. I am not here for anyone’s entertainment. I am safe.
We take a break and sit on the bar stools at the edge of a side stage backed by lit-up rainbow walls. A bartender comes over to ask me if I need anything. I say “no thank you.” We wonder where our two male friends, one straight and one bi-sexual, have disappeared to. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the two of them in the center of the dancefloor bouncing up and down to the beat of a song with big, stupid grins stretched across their faces. They are safe.
At 2 a.m. the club announces they are closing for the night. Hundreds of sweaty bodies file out the front door, the strong scent of alcohol soaked into their shirts. Some go to an after party at another gay club next door, some make their way to the train or the subway, some punch a new number into their cell phone, some leave with their arm around a stranger’s shoulders. I go home with my fiancé and my friends and I brag about how much fun I had.
I wake up one morning in June, a couple months later, to tweets expressing condolences, outrage, fear, and “thoughts and prayers”, so many thoughts and prayers, for what has happened in Orlando, Florida. I do not know what has happened in Orlando, Florida, so I check the news.
The reports tell me a man (or rather a coward) opened fire at Pulse Nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, during the early hours of the morning and held large amounts of people hostage until the police were able to shoot him. 49 are dead, at least 50 more are severely injured.
The shooter is identified as Omar Mateen, a man who pledged allegiance to well-known terrorist group, ISIS, while committing this crime. A man who was previously placed on the FBI watch list. A man with a history of homophobia. A man who is angered by two men kissing. A man who acquired an assault rifle and a pistol, among other weapons, in order to express just how angry he was.
I am in shock and disbelief. I check social media again. Thoughts and prayers for the victims and their loved ones. Thoughts and prayers everywhere.
The funny thing about thoughts and prayers is that, while they are meant to be a kind gesture, they are hollow when they come from the mouths and minds of people who feel the same way Omar Mateen did.
Conservatives and Republicans have fought for decades against equal rights for LGBTQ people, using religion as a crutch for their beliefs. Christianity and Islam are not the same religion; they have many differences. However, extreme Christianity and extreme Islam do share this belief in common: homosexuality is a sin.
I read the posts by Conservatives and Republicans expressing their condolences and I am not surprised. They know how bad they will look if they don’t mourn for the LGBTQ community the way they did for Parisians the previous November or innocent children of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
I see how quick they are to discuss and blame ISIS and Muslims and radical Islam. I see the way they will only use the term “terrorist attack” and never “hate crime.” I assume this is because deep down, even they recognize their own hypocrisy. Or at least, I hope so.
Many radical Conservatives and Republicans share the same belief Mateen did, only Mateen took his hatred a few steps further by purchasing weapons that typically are only used in war. As an American citizen, he had the right to do so without a proper background check or psychological evaluation thanks to the same Conservatives and Republicans who work tirelessly (and sometimes brainlessly) to protect gun laws.
Such people (or cowards) have preached hatred for the LGBTQ community endlessly. As part of the LGBTQ community, I am overly aware of this fact each time a potential presidential candidate promises to reverse the law which legalizes gay marriage, each time a politician or religious leader claims that love can only exist between a man and a woman, and each time one of my Facebook “friends” posts a status about how transgender people who wish to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with are disgusting. I make no mistake in recognizing that a radical Christian who is now tweeting their “thoughts and prayers” for Orlando could just as easily be motivated to commit a similar hate crime.
On the same morning I hear this news, I lay in bed imagining deplorable excuses for human beings sitting in front of their televisions and smartphones, also hearing this news for the first time.
“What’s a few less faggots anyway?” they say.
“If everyone in that club owned guns they could have defended themselves,” they say.
“They got what was coming to them,” they say.
I don’t have to imagine such slurs anymore because a Lt. Governor in Texas makes it a reality by tweeting a Bible verse claiming “we reap what we sow.”
I turn over to kiss my sleeping fiancé’s shoulder. In my head, I hear our family members and friends talking about how happy they are for us and how great it is that we found each other. I hear the same family members and friends mumble about how it’s just so gross to have to watch two guys be affectionate with each other and how transgender people should just suck it up and use the bathroom for the gender they were born with because they’re just confused anyway. I realize that my family and friends’ acceptance of my relationship is not enough; that they often perpetuate the hatred, homophobia, and transphobia which encourages people like Mateen to murder. That I could have just as well been one of the 300 people in Pulse Nightclub who was killed, or injured, or forever traumatized. All because of who I love.
Over the next few days, I swallow mouthfuls of articles, most of which begin with “BREAKING NEWS” or “NEW ALLEGATIONS.” New allegations that Omar Mateen belonged to “several gay dating apps,” and new allegations that Omar Mateen visited Pulse nightclub “regularly.”
The media continues to say his name. The media continues their attempts to distract us. The media continues to find any excuse not to call this event what it is: a hate crime. They continue to force feed us the shooter’s alleged religious beliefs, alleged sexual history, and alleged ties to terrorist groups, while simultaneously ignoring the entire community of human beings who were victimized.
The Conservatives and Republicans follow suit, never acknowledging the shooting as a hate crime, but continuing to send thoughts and prayers.
Weeks later, the shock value remains, but I grow sad and angry. I remind myself I have every right to be. My fiancé and I buy LGBTQ pride-colored bracelets from a company who will donate the profits to the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ young people. It is not enough. Members of the American Civil Liberties Union stop us on the street and remind us of the laws that exist all over the country which allow LGBTQ people to be fired based on their sexual orientation. We donate money. It still is not enough. I recognize that nothing is ever going to feel like enough.
Most of the Conservatives and Republicans forget about the shooting and go on with their lives. They believe their thoughts and prayers were enough. The only time they return to the topic is at the Republican National Convention a month later as Donald Trump spits out the phrase “LGBTQ” as if he is choking on the letters in his alphabet soup. A crowd of people who make it their priority to assure we are never treated equally begin to cheer as the orange-faced man claims that he wants to keep us “safe.” They go to sleep at night knowing that they only care when it’s convenient for them.
I identified as straight for most of my life, until I didn’t anymore. Going to a gay club was a new experience for me. I loved it. I felt safe there. I wanted to go back. And then I awoke a few months later to find that arguably the only safe place for many LGBTQ people, was stolen from them. Along with some of their lives.
The LGBTQ community is targeted based on who they love, so excuse us if your thoughts and prayers are not enough. They never will be.