No Islamophobia in the Name of Queers: Mourning and Solidarity in the Wake of Orlando

When I first heard on Sunday morning that fifty people had been killed by a gunman at Latin night in an Orlando gay club, Rick Scott’s voice played over my grief. And over, and over: “This is an attack on our people” said the recording, playing on a loop. “An attack on all of us.”

Our peopleAmericansUs.

Beneath my shock was rage: Since when has Rick Scott thought of queers as part of “us”? 

It is a collective rage.

Violence at this scope is mind-numbing in its enormity, and brings with it the need for a suspended animation, the need for time and space to realize — if it can be realized — the beauty of human life and the terror of its loss. But in the United States, in a state of war that seems interminable and that breeds a systemic devaluing of both queer and Muslim life, the grief of violence is trailed by an anxiety that blossoms the moment we hear the gunman’s name. When Trump gets onstage and calls again for the banning of Muslim immigration into the U.S., the fear swells: One minority’s lives will be weaponized against another.

I was too young to make much sense of the flurry of hawkishness that swept in on the grief of 9/11. I remember flags, a great deal of them, and a rash of country songs: Hey, Uncle Sam put your name on the top of his list, we used to chant, spinning breathless around the schoolyard. I did not know what the lyrics meant.

I did know that I liked women, and that this was bad. I knew that the same neighbors who implied they would hate me were this news to get out also seemed to love the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did not know if the inhabitants of my overwhelmingly white, Christian town had ever actually met a Muslim person, but I knew they didn’t like them.

Rick Scott has not mentioned that the attack he mourns was specifically against queers. Donald Trump, whose opinion on our civil rights has fluctuated like a weathercock on the whims of his party, did mention this in his Monday speech. He mentioned the LGBT community, in fact, with gleeful frequency, the notorious sexist and homophobe delightedly pointing to “radical Islam” as woman-hating and queer-hating with seemingly zero cognizance of the brutal irony. This irony was second only to the fact that let’s-build-a-wall Trump suddenly valued queer Latinos.

Those pundits and politicians — Trump, Scott, and everyone else baying for unity and blood — have devoted their energy and political capital, their talk shows and their rallies, to hating queers, to denying us our communities and our marriages, our jobs and our children, our access to healthcare, restrooms, and dignity. They have bullied us through harassment and corrective therapy. Some of us have been bullied to death.

These same pundits and politicians now come forward as our “protectors” against an apparently even bigger boogie man: Muslims.

Never mind that many queers are Muslim and many Muslims are queer; never mind that the American right’s stand on queers is similar to ISIS’s; that it is America’s enormous and thriving Christian evangelical right, and not its minuscule and much-vilified Muslim minority, that has most advocated queer death.

Shooter Omar Mateen, born in New York, becomes a symbol of “foreign ideology,” an “attack from outside” against which we must stand united — rather than a home-grown terrorist bred in a climate of war. Rather than even glancing at Florida’s native culture of guns and homophobia, these pundits tell us, we should blame it all on Islam.

Of course, Omar Mateen was the most American of American types, glorified in everything from Wounded Knee to Rambo: An angry man with a gun.

II. We Are Not Yours

The thing that finally made me cry was a one-line post from a Facebook friend, a Christian whose faith-informed vision of justice has always made me feel the kind of shivery-good of ethical conviction. Didn’t his comrades in the church, he asked, also have to take moral responsibility for their own anti-LGBT sentiments?

I don’t know if I realized before how visceral the beauty of solidarity can be, but I felt a raw awe at these words. It takes a profound courage to hold one’s community accountable, and oneself; to stand with people one does not have to love.

It is very easy, and very tempting, for white queers, rich queers, queers whose gender presentations are still relatively normative, non-Muslim queers, to use our privileges to alleviate some of our marginality.There has been a great deal of academic work in recent years on the way in which non-Muslim queers have exploited an Islamophobic and militaristic nationalism to encourage our assimilation into mainstream society. As with discourse about women’s rights, LGBT rights have been exploited as yet another reason for war in the Middle East.

But we do not, after all, need to be the pawns of political hatred. If there is anything queerness can teach us — and this too has been sweeping my Facebook feed in the past two days — it is the radical possibility of community.

Solidarity is not merely a matter of declaration; it takes work. But the violence into which we are born does not need to be violence that we perpetuate; we can unwind ourselves and stitch our fates to those unlike us. We can ally ourselves across, even against, the apparent interests of our race, religion, gender, caste, or class.

To Donald Trump and Rick Scott, to anyone who believes that American assault weapons do not belong in Florida but do belong in Palestine, to anyone who uses queer grief to keep refugees out and Muslims in fear, to anyone who uses queer lives to wage war: We are not yours.

If uniting as Americans means uniting against our neighbors and our lovers and our friends here and across the world; if uniting means being pro-gun, pro-war, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim; if uniting means hating others as we have been hated, then forget unity.

We will opt, instead, for solidarity: For the difficult task of acknowledging and strengthening, however unlikely, the webs that uplift marginalized lives. For those who have been devalued and discarded, who have been oppressed and maligned. Even if we are told we ought to fear each other. Even if we are told our love is impossible.

Queer history teaches us, after all, that impossible love is not only possible but our best and only hope.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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