By Jacquelyn Warr-Williams
In the aftermath of the Orlando killings, there has been a tremendous outpouring of love and support for the victims and their families. But this tragedy has also brought to the surface the unbelievable hate that still exists for gay and transgender individuals.
This hate is not anonymous, and it is not confined to one group of people. A California pastor openly commented that he was not going to mourn those who died in Orlando. He stated, "Are you sad that 50 sodomites were killed today? I think Orlando is a little safer tonight."
Despite some headline-grabbing gains for the LGBTQ+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and others) in the last 10 years - marriage equality being the best-known - this community is still dealing with homophobia and transphobia at every level of our society.
Across this country, laws that fuel hate continue to pass in the name of religious freedom. In the year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, more than 100 bills were introduced in state legislatures that took aim at gay and transgender people. Even when our government understands and endorses protective actions, such as allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identification, the response from states is often vocally violent.
The bias extends to my own field, therapy. In New Jersey, I fought to successfully ban the use of "conversion therapy" on youths. This progress for vulnerable gay and transgender individuals is unfortunately overshadowed by recent laws in Tennessee and other states that allow therapists to refuse to treat clients whose identities or views clash with their personal or religious views. This not only is unethical but also has deadly consequences.
Last week, much of the debate on Orlando was focused on gun control or fighting terrorism - both important initiatives. But what about the vitriol that still exists toward our fellow Americans who are gay or transgender? How can we talk about the attack being on a "gay club" but not mention that the massacre was not perpetrated on "victims" but was targeted specifically to kill members of the gay community?
I work with LGBTQ+ youths who are 11 to 19 years old. They are struggling to fit in, struggling with family, schools, and communities that don't understand or support them. Those who are youths of color are affected especially, with the element of racism included. They're engaging in self-injurious behaviors like cutting; they've made suicide attempts; many have been psychiatrically hospitalized; and many have such anxiety that they are unable to attend school.
These vulnerable kids read and hear the news online and on social media. They hear what people think of them. And when news coverage of a mass murder in a gay club refuses to focus on the fact that this was a clear result of homophobia/ transphobia, they hear that silence as well.
My clients, as well as the social-work students I teach, have all expressed the same anger, outrage, and unfortunately increased fear and insecurity about their ability to be safe while trying to live their lives as free human beings. One of my young African American clients told me yesterday, "They're not only shooting blacks, they're shooting gays too."
If speaking out like this is considered playing the "gay card" or the "race card," so be it. I'm doubling down. This was a hate crime regardless of the shooter's identity or motives.
We can hope to legislate the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them, but we need to speak up and focus on changing the minds of those who don't understand or refuse to accept someone they define as "different" from them.
There is a lot of talk about "choice" regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, but the only choice that matters in this case was the one to hate. I hope the choice you make is to speak out against hate in all its forms.