Forty nine innocent LGBTI dead. 53 in hospital, wounded. Facebook is abuzz with mourning, comments, analyses. Anderson Cooper and colleagues analyzed all angles for hours. FBI investigating endlessly.
By now we have seen, heard, read the accounts. Some of us have even seen the Baptist preachers applauding the death of 49 filthy homosexuals that the Bible says should be put to death. And surely this is God’s punishment for the US Supreme Court approval of homosexual marriage.
What happened in Orlando, Florida is so complex that it spans the whole spread of issues pertaining to LGBTI acceptance and rejection. And jumps squarely into the middle of a steamy hot political issue in the U.S. Turn on the TV and you will catch Clinton and Trump screaming at each other about civilians owning guns, yes or no.
The Philippines Comprehensive Firearms Act limits the purchase of guns to “small arms.”
In the Orlando scenario 29 year old Omar Mateen, already investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist links, was able to buy a semi automatic pistol and full fledged automatic rifle which he used in his killings. So the gun control debate heated up. “Why?” “How on earth could he buy these weapons?”
I remember in the war in Korea, as Troop Information and Education officer, I taught classes on how to use the Browning Automatic Machine gun. Its purpose was to wipe out many Gooks fast if they rushed over the hill toward our compound. But what in the world would a city guy legitimately use an automatic rifle for?
Of course we can’t do justice to all the factors in this situation. Even a list of the issues would be very long.
Let’s focus on the “gay” angle. Evidence piled up within 24 hours, even with statements from the murderer’s father, as well as from other Pulse night club regulars. It did not take Anderson Cooper, savvy as he is, to conclude that Omar Mateen had same-sex inclinations and alternately acted on them and hated his Islamic-trained self for doing so. The label is internalized homophobia.
In the Orlando killings, the victims, police, FBI, and the world were not simply confronting an ISIS sympathizer, Islamic terrorist, or even just plain homophobe.
Perhaps the case involved all the above. But it’s so complicated. He had gone to that popular gay night club with dancing and transgender entertainers – many times. He had more than once picked up or been picked up as the “date for the night.” In addition he regularly did whatever people do with gay dating aps!
But his religion said it was bad, very bad.
It was very natural feeling for him, but Islam, like many Christian religion contortionists, said it was filthy, bad, immoral, disgusting. There he was, torn between “what seems so good,” and “what they say is so bad.”
I have come to the conclusion that the Orlando killings are very much related to a phenomenon we experience, shall we say, every day, in the Philippines and almost every place else in the world. Internalized homophobia not only affects the life of the self-hating person, but many people around him. I have been deeply sucked into the world of fearing my own homosexual feelings, and I have been a victim of those who tried to cover up their own same-sex attraction, by publicly denouncing me as a “suspect.”
Brian McNaught was a friend of mine when we were both victims in different settings nearly fifty years ago. He lives now in Florida, is a writer and sexuality educator. I learned a lot from him that is pertinent to the Orlando killings.
He told me in very simple terms things that I knew, but he expressed them so well. He explained that self-hatred devours your soul, makes you self-destruct, and it drags down in the process others who are innocent.
He made a powerful statement about the Orlando murderer. “The man in question was raised in a conservative, religious, Islamic household in America, raised in schools where he probably heard his classmates say disparagingly, “That’s so gay,” worked in the macho profession of security, in which “fag” is used commonly as a putdown, and married a Muslim woman he abused. It turns out, I was right. Allegedly, the mass murderer had been seen by patrons in the past, so drunk at times he was escorted out of the Pulse. Influenced by reports of ISIS throwing gay men from buildings to their deaths, unable to make peace with his sexuality and faith, and feeling hopeless about the future, he chose to be a martyr to ISIS by making martyrs of his gay brothers and sisters.”
I thank Brian for a very clear analysis of what happened then at the Pulse night club just as it was about closing time, people were wrapping up dating arrangements. He didn’t have a date that night, and he spoiled everyone else’s plans for night. ”So, is this still a hate crime against gay people? Yes, of course, as well as a hate crime against oneself. You have to be taught to hate, and the world did a good job with him. Was it a jihad, and an act of terrorism? Oh, yes. He sought to please the people who hated him by killing the people they hated, all in the name of religion. Is the crime less scary for all Americans because it was committed against gay people by a closeted homosexual? That you have to decide for yourself. ISIS cheered the slaughter.”
Why and how is this important and relevant to us, to Pinoy LGBT? Since we can’t talk about everything, I choose to emphasize something that is needed in the prevention of HIV infection as well as for wellness in the wholeness of life.
Fr. JP Heath developed in Africa and has now introduced all around the globe, the SAVE Toolkit. I was able to attend one of the workshops he taught here sponsored here by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines. I found it a very effective instrument in general, particularly with regard to the effect of internalized homophobia and self-hatred we mentioned here. This toolkit is about gaining knowledge and reducing the stigma that is so destructively associated not only with being PLHIV but also with being LGBTGI.
Healing of stigma and internalized homophobia is also a program of The Well Philippines, as well as the work of ongoing programs of the NCCP.
In short, the elimination of stigma is a big step in reacquiring self-esteem and getting out of the mental health ruts that not only can contribute to acquiring HIV, but can, God forbid, bring on the syndrome that drove a gay man to kill 49 innocent people and put 53 others in hospital.
Bishop Richard Mickley, Ph.D. is bishop of the sex-positive Catholic Diocese of One Spirit and coordinator of The Well wellness program 0920 903 4909.