Features

"United we are Stronger": Lakuti and Tama Sumo Talk Orlando, Prejudice, and Lies

We sat down for a serious and in-depth chat with the DJ duo.
24 June 2016, 10:34am

Stop us if you've heard this one before. A guy walks into a gay club armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. Police intervene. When the dust settles he lies dead on the floor. As do 49 innocent victims. Scores more are injured.

In the wake of the attack on Orlando, Florida's Pulse nightclub, media, political and societal climates have become more toxic than ever, further fuelling the engine of Islamophobia. Adama Dieng even felt it necessary to issue a stark warning about the alarming rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West after the shootings. Adama Dientg is the UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide. Those words came one day after UK MP Jo Cox was slain by a killer with far-right connections intent on 'protecting Britain' from foreign invaders, including Muslims. An unrelated incident, aside from the way it offers more evidence as to what can happen when the worst fires are stoked.

More reassuringly there's been much solidarity shown too. Not least an open letter written by Kevin Smith, of the campaign organisation Global Justice Now, signed by 125 representatives of the LGBT community, rejecting Islamophobia in the wake of Orlando. Those offering their John Hancock include journalists, academics, publishers, artists and activists. The names Kerstin Egert and Lerato Khathi both appear, AKA Berlin house and techno hero Tama Sumo, alongside her civil partner and similarly much-respected dance dame, Lakuti.

We asked them for some thoughts and feelings on all this. They gave us plenty.

THUMP: If we can take one thing from recent events, surely it's that the world has too much hate and distrust between people right now?**Lakuti:** It's really sad that humans don't seem to be recognising their own enemy. Which is capitalism, austerity, and the fact rich people don't pay their way, and poor people are consistently penalised in favour of more and more profits. It seems to be human nature that you target those in a weaker position than you.
Tama Sumo: I think this has been set up for a long time, especially since 9/11. I have a feeling that this is the plan and it's working so well.
Lakuti: Yeah, we have been sold one idea that all of a sudden Islam is bad. I'm not a religious person, I have a huge problem with religion as we know it, because I think it preys on the already-oppressed. I am a spiritual person, though, and the two are different entities. Spirituality makes you reflect, so you come closer to humility and humanity.
Tama Sumo: The problem, especially in the West, is that this isn't natural. Spirituality is for the hippies, or whatever. It isn't referenced in a positive way at all.
Lakuti: And let's not forget that religion is a huge business, they profit from and prey on the weak and the poor. I understand how people need the church to relax amongst friends on a Sunday, but really enough is enough. People are being manipulated- how long can it go on for? There is bloodshed across the world in the name of religion.
Tama Sumo: The crazy thing is it has nothing really to do with religion.
Lakuti: Well, if it did then we would be appalled by Christianity also, because throughout history it has been incredibly brutal too.

There have been widespread reports that the Orlando killer was in fact struggling with his own homosexuality. Does this change the situation?
Lakuti: I think this goes much deeper. Men are pushed into a mindset that they have to be strong, and that strength is shown through aggression. If you don't fit into that box, and you're an emotional man, I can understand how it can bring out enough emotional insecurity to make someone kill. Patriarchy and how society functions is really bad, and are hinderances to us achieving a world that acts in a progressive way.
Tama Sumo: I think we are going backwards in many ways. Those stereotypes are being increasingly valued again.
Lakuti: I kind of have a theory about this. Let's face it, capitalism is in a very precarious position right now. I honestly feel we are beginning to see the end of capitalism, or at least in the way we know it. In turn that is making a lot of men feel insecure or unclear about their role in society, which is bringing more aggression to the fore.

At first glance, capitalism doesn't seem to have much to do with the Orlando killings. But it's much more complex than the headlines suggest, isn't it?
Lakuti: Of course, we live in the greatest age for misinformation, and this is deliberate from the top- to maintain the status quo. People are not being given the right information, and they react based on fear and incomplete information.
Tama Sumo: And people are being fed a message by the media that it's OK to be brutal towards something you don't like. In a way it's not really surprising that all this is being missed out because of what society is teaching people.

The media obviously has a huge role to play. Did you see the Sky News broadcast with Guardian journalist Owen Jones, in which presenters would not accept Orlando was fundamentally an attack on the LGBT community, rather than an act of religious terrorism?
Lakuti: It's interesting how, if anything horrific happens, the reaction is dependent on the colour of the perpetrator's skin. If it's a brown or black person it's immediately terrorism. If it's a white person—for example the Jo Cox situation—the media will do anything and everything not to associate those people with terrorism. Instead it's a madman. We have to start being responsible for questioning this behaviour as communities.
Tama Sumo: Look at [Anders] Breivik in Norway. It's all about the individual, and the consequences for individuals. Nobody asks: 'he spent time in right wing circles, so what do we need to do to address those right wing circles?' They breed that hate.
Lakuti: Absolutely. In the U.S. there is more of a problem with domestic terrorism and acts of violence than there is with terrorism coming from the Middle East. This is fact.
Tama Sumo: This can even be taken further. What do you consider terrorism? Is a drone strike terrorism, and so on. But that's really another discussion.
Lakuti: You definitely need to question what the motivation is for this dialogue about Islam. To me, ISIS is really our governments selling arms to rogue countries. They are profiting from that, working with countries like Saudi Arabia, which sponsors terror groups. They are all in it together for the sake of oil and money, with no care for the electorate.

Going back to Orlando, the LGBT community itself has a well established reputation for standing with other minority groups. Is that an accurate picture?
Lakuti: "I think that's really a thing of the past. We have seen what I would refer to as homonationalism being pushed to the fore. Companies are trying to sleep with the gay community because they have disposable income.

I have often felt really, really bad as a black, queer woman because if something impacts the gay community people are out their en masse, shouting loud. If it concerns the treatment of women and racism, the gay community is often not as enthusiastic. I think this is a difficult and dangerous approach, and it's extremely shortsighted. As gay people we have to embrace other struggles- whether that's women's equality, racism, or poverty, because we should not prioritise our own struggles over that of others.

United we are stronger, and you are certainly not going to be emancipated as a gay person if others are not. There has been a really devastating homonationalisation within the gay community taking place for some time now. You know, there is actual racism within the gay community. Look at things like Grindr and see how many people are saying 'No Asians, no blacks'...
Tama Sumo: And "straight acting."
Lakuti: "Yes, and 'straight acting'. The gay community has it's own issues to deal with and I think what happened in Orlando will make people reflect on where we are at as a community now, and what made people originally stand up for our rights. This needs to go much further than the gay community, and recognise that there are people within that community suffering from racism, just as there are women suffering because they are women.
Tama Sumo: It's about all of humanity. If all of the groups that are not the dominant culture got together we would have so much more strength. At the moment we are just appearing as smaller movements, which is a pity.

Orlando has shocked both the gay and straight clubbing communities. How can these demographics heal?
Lakuti: I think we need to start living life as we say we see it. At the moment I see ghettos in the clubbing framework. Clubs are hugely segregated, and for a number of reasons. Women earn less money, a lot of people of colour earn less money. Therefore they cannot afford the entry passes, the alcohol prices as much. So you have clubbing geared towards the rich and the affluent. That's really sad, and goes completely against what brought me into clubbing in the first place. It should be less of a lifestyle choice, and more about diverse communities with people allowed to be themselves and be accepted.
Tama Sumo: This brings up integration. In Germany there has been a lot of discussion about how to integrate but I really don't think it has happened much. We need to do so much more to get together and make people feel welcome, without the focus being on those people adapting to our model, and if they don't we just say they are not interested in making the effort needed to integrate themselves.

You both signed the letter to try and discourage connecting Orlando with Islamic extremism. What was the biggest motivation- the threat of violence against Muslims from the gay community, or wider society?
Lakuti:**I think both scenarios are possible. I don't know if you're aware of the LGBT arm of the EDL, which was inciting a lot of hatred towards the community in Whitechapel, London, because of stickers that had appeared overnight in the area about Islam and homosexuality. All of a sudden there was this EDL presence, they wanted to put on a gay festival or something, and I just thought this is really dangerous. What if those stickers were made by the EDL? It was a ploy to get the gay community riled up and have them involved in the Islamophobic movement in the UK. In reality, Islam can stand for homophobia, but so does Christianity.
**Tama Sumo:
Yes, exactly. No religion officially embraces homosexuality.

In many ways it feels as though homophobia has never been placed on the same level as other prejudices. In the UK, for example, a gay joke in the pub is far more 'acceptable' than a racist comment.
Lakuti: It's completely normalised. We talked before about the traditional model of a man, and if you don't fit in maybe you're a 'poof' or whatever. These comments cut deeper than people think.
Tama Sumo: It's the same with racism. People seem so lazy when it comes to thinking about what they say, and how it can hurt and cause actual damage.

Has there been less emphasis on stamping out homophobia than other prejudices?
Lakuti: I think a lot of the LGBT community saw marriage as full acceptance. But this is completely not the case. We have to see how the gay marriage thing has been used to entice the community, rather than support it. In fact they are being used as pawns in this whole game. Look at 'pinkwashing' in Israel, where the army is sponsoring gay pride to improve its image.

That sounds crazy.
Lakuti: Yeah, it is. So we have to understand that the rights we have are not set in stone. Anyone who is running the country could easily revoke them.
Tama Sumo: It doesn't show that society has actually become more open. OK, so if the homosexuals are nice and behave in the one given way- a relationship of two monogamous people- then we will accept them.
Lakuti: I'm happy that gay people can marry, but is this actual progress? For starters, no government has any business in your bedroom- it shouldn't be that way. And we should be fighting for everyone to have rights whether they are married or not.
Tama Sumo: You could be single, or live in a patchwork family...there are so many possible ways of life but apparently they're not approved. I don't understand why there is just this one that is legalised by the government.
Lakuti: It's a way of the government controlling people.

Finally, then, what's the most important message we should take from the letter you signed about Orlando?
Lakuti: We need to start reflecting on the way we are used by governments to support their cases to go to war. We need to try and stop ourselves being used and manipulated in a way that creates an excuse for this aggression, because this is not the answer.
Tama Sumo: I have nothing to add.

Read the letter in full here.