The Orlando Massacre Is About LGBT People No Matter What the Media Says

The deadliest mass shooting in US history didn't even make the front page of some British newspapers. Why?
13 June 2016, 11:35am

Owen Jones walks off Sky News (screengrab)

It took a considerable amount of time for the BBC to start showing reports of the biggest mass shooting in American history on television on Sunday; they were airing footage of the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations instead. The Daily Mail hasn't put anything about the biggest terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 on its front page; they have, instead, gone for speculation about Turkish migration, and more of the Queen: "a glorious picture pullout of her life in jewellery". The Express has it on its own front page, smaller than the Queen and pensions, but turn to page four if you actually want to read the story. The Telegraph has a report, but no picture of the culprit, or the victims, or the nightclub, or the terror; the image is the Queen, smiling, waving, flanked by a border of pristine Union Jacks.

In Orlando, over the course of three long, awful hours, 50 people were murdered by a man who hated gay people. It was a terrorist attack motivated by homophobia. He is said to have pledged allegiance to Isis. It was a terrorist attack motivated by homophobia.

Parts of the British media are struggling with how to report this atrocity and the extent to which it deserves coverage at all. I have seen this explained away using the fact that it happened on foreign soil, but there is something disingenuous about this reasoning: an underlying sense that 'it happened to gay people, not to us'. In Paris last November, the attacks on bars and cafes and a concert hall ignited the empathy of the UK on a near-universal scale. Almost everyone knows what it is to eat, drink, see friends, watch live music, and, terribly, can now imagine what it might feel like to have those experiences interrupted by weapons and violence. After Paris, we were all Paris, as our Facebook feeds turned tricolore with understanding, with solidarity, with empathy.

But Orlando was the targeted slaughter of LGBT people dancing in a gay club. Unless you have felt the need for that kind of space, the desperate desire for a safe haven in which it is possible to be the person you are, then it is difficult to comprehend the deep pain of having that sanctuary torn away with such violence and such horror. Gay clubs are supposed to be an escape from hate and prejudice and fear. They are spaces in which a minority still subjected to frequent violence and hate crimes and the pernicious drip-drip of sneering at difference can get away from all of that and drink and dance and desire each other, openly and freely, without being afraid.

In many parts of the west, in the UK and the US, gay marriage is now legal, but do not be fooled: this legislated acceptance offers no shelter from being spat at by a passing driver, or catcalled for holding hands, or beaten up for leaving the wrong pub on the wrong night on the wrong street. I have written about gay rights for a broadsheet newspaper on a number of occasions and every time, under each and every article about it, one sort of comment was guaranteed: some tedious variation of "I don't feel the need to talk about my heterosexuality, why do you feel the need to talk about being gay?"

This fundamental lack of understanding was demonstrated with fantastic clumsiness on Sky News on Sunday night. Guardian columnist Owen Jones was discussing the massacre in Orlando with fellow guest Julia Hartley-Brewer and host Mark Longhurst. Jones said it was one of the worst atrocities carried out against LGBT people in modern times. Astonishingly, Longhurst stepped in to correct him. "It's something carried out against human beings, isn't it?" he suggested, adjusting the conversation to be sure that he himself was included. The discussion became ill-tempered and heated; Jones eventually walked out. Good for him.

When Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning with an assault rifle and took three hours to slaughter the people inside it, make no mistake: he was murdering gay people because they were gay. To say this is an 'attack on everyone' is to refuse to call it what it is. And refusing to call it what it is fosters division and hostility, and limits our empathy. Shame on those newspapers who have found this too unpalatable for their front pages.


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