It was a Hate Crime, Regardless of the Shooter’s Orientation
On June 12th, Omar Mateen terrorized and murdered 49 innocent people who were just out for a fun night of drinks and dancing with friends at an LGBT nightclub called Pulse in Orlando Florida. His father reportedly told the police that his son had been motivated to commit the massacre by the sight of two men kissing in the park. That sight apparently so enraged Omar that he spent the next weeks researching the LGBT community, using LGBT dating apps, repeatedly visiting the nightclub in order to “case” the place, buying guns and ammunition – all because he saw #TwoMenKissing.
Does that story seem unlikely to you? That’s because it probably is. According to some credible accounts, Omar Mateen was a closeted gay or bisexual man. It seems likely that he was using those dating apps and visiting that nightclub for the same reason so many other LGBT people do.
The shooter’s true motivations were certainly more complex than simple brutish homophobia. He swore an oath to Isis during the massacre, and he made pronouncements about how he wanted the United States to stop bombing his ancestors’ country of Afghanistan. Still, regardless of Omar’s sexual orientation, homophobia was a key motivation.
You see, some LGBT people harbor internalized homophobia, which makes them hate themselves and sometimes even compels them to act out violently against other LGBT people as a psychological defense mechanism. While it can be difficult for many straight people to understand, it is a story that is all too familiar to the LGBT community. We are bullied daily by brutes like Omar who lack the courage to face themselves in the mirror.
The truth is some closeted gay or bi men can be extremely triggered by seeing two men kiss, because the sight arouses feelings in them that they don’t want to face. For all we know, his father’s story is true. Omar may have exaggerated disgust out of shame, due to the fact that his religious father would never accept his same sex attraction, or the disgust may have been real and very personal – or both.
Fear of being rejected by family is one factor that keeps many people in the closet. The shooter also had a wife. Did she know? Maybe she caught him sneaking around on dating apps and in nightclubs. Maybe he excused it by saying he was “casing” the place (she later admitted to police that she knew he had been considering an attack upon the club). Or maybe Omar really was casing the place, and his apparent LGBT orientation was just an act, a ruse to help him get to his victims. We cannot be certain.
The point is that it really doesn’t matter. This shooter was a disturbed individual. Whether he was straight or LGBT, the fact that he was raised in a homophobic society (a culture which compelled him to act out hyper “masculine” stereotypes or risk rejection by those closest to him) played a key role in developing his twisted obsession with murdering LGBT people. It was a hate crime. Omar Mateen was a homophobe who murdered LGBT people out of sheer hatred, and that is one thing about which we CAN be certain.
So, please don’t let anyone get away with claiming that this mass shooting wasn’t a hate crime. It was. As is every act of violence directed toward LGBT people as a result of the virus we call homophobia. But you know what, we are used to it. We have had to deal with it our entire lives – all of us. We stand together, along with our supportive friends, family, and allies. And we will never give up our fight for equal rights. #WeAreOrlando