As we all know by now, 50 people were killed and more than 50 were wounded early Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. According to U.S. officials, Omar Mateen, the man who perpetrated the attack, called 911 to swear allegiance to ISIS while he was in the nightclub, leading the FBI to call the massacre an act of terrorism.
We are, as we are sure everyone reading this is, horrified and enraged. First and foremost, of course, our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives, with the wounded and their families, and with the LGBTQ community in Orlando and around the country, for whom nightclubs like Pulse are so often a place of refuge and solidarity, of peace and belonging.
We are also aware that the political gamesmanship inevitably engendered by events like these has already begun. President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump have all made statements, and it’s not hard to see the predictable lines of response to this massacre being drawn. Nonetheless, we think it’s worth noting that this mass shooting, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, brings together into one nexus many of the issues confronting us today: what to do about so-called “radical Islam,” gun control, mental illness (whether or not Mateen was indeed mentally ill, the fact that people have raised the possibility makes it an issue), men’s violence against women (he did abuse his ex-wife), and homophobia. Indeed, the massacre presents itself as a kind of Rorschach test, in which people will see what they want and need to see. What they, what we, say and do about that will inevitably tell us more about them and about ourselves than about Omar Mateen, Islam, or any of the other issues listed above.
One aspect of this attack, however, is incontrovertible. Regardless of what motivated Mateen, the massacre he perpetrated was first and foremost an assault on LGBTQ people, on those they love, and on those who love them. We believe that fact ought to anchor our response, in word and deed, which is why we are calling on you to find some way of standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Orlando may seem very far away, but there are things we can do right here, right now. In both their personal and professional lives, for example, LGBTQ educators face precisely the same homophobia expressed by Mateen, albeit (usually) in less extreme forms. That’s why the NCCFT Executive Committee will be represented at NYSUT’s first Annual Long Island Pride in Education Reception on June 17th (for more information, click here). We hope to see you there as well.