In the aftermath of the attack in Orlando, if you are nearby and can offer direct support, I’m sure you’re already doing so. We don't have clarity on the motive, but we do know that the LGBTQ community has been targeted, and that there is already conversation suggesting a link to the tiny minority of radical Islamic fundamentalists who support the use of terror. If you’re like the rest of us, and not there but want to prevent such things from happening again, here are five suggestions:
1: Challenge homophobia, get to know, and celebrate LGBTQ people.
I grew up fearing that I was not straight in a society deeply influenced by prejudice against LGBTQ people. I am both the target of homophobia and biphobia, and have also internalized enough of each to know that it is easy to disavow violence against LGBTQ people, but harder to acknowledge my complicity in it. So let me say this: I am complicit in homophobia, every time I believe or express the story that I am less than equal, beautiful, beloved.
If this is true, then I want to ask all of us to address our homophobia. Anything less than full affirmation of the humanity and dignity of the LGBTQ community and our relationships is homophobic.
You don’t get a pass if your ideology regarding LGBTQ people is “welcoming but not affirming”. Another term for such a position is complicity in the dehumanization of marginalized people. You don’t even get a pass if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community. I am a man married to a man, and I have to deal with my own homophobia daily.
So: if you haven’t yet said out loud that LGBTQ people are to be fully affirmed, please do so now. If you haven’t publicly apologized for the way your previous beliefs have dehumanized others, please do so now. If you work for an institution, publish with a company, or speak at conferences that do not fully affirm LGBTQ people, please make a statement now that clearly sets out that you disagree with their policies, and will work to change them.
2: Challenge Islamophobia, and get to know, and celebrate the Muslim community.
I grew up religious in a society deeply influenced by religious fundamentalism, and one in which the use of violence for political ends was supported by large numbers of people. Killings were a regular occurrence, and the cycle of vengeance was only broken when people were willing to lay aside their entirely reasonable reluctance to be in the same room as their enemies. Instead they allowed their grief to drive them to seek a common good solution, rather than continuing to permit ideological purity to keep them apart.
This is true everywhere. Terror begets terror until one group completely eradicates the other, or when people talk to each other. The first of these strategies is not a solution. The second is happening all over the world. It is what is bringing peace to South Africa, Sri Lanka, and my home of northern Ireland, among many other places. It can work in the US and the Middle East too. For that to happen, it must be recognized that the killing of civilians by anyone - an individual or a state - is wrong. Rage simmers when marginalized people are dominated by imperial power. My Muslim friends are peace-loving, kind, humane, and don’t hesitate to both condemn violence done in the name of Islam and work to prevent it.
So: Consider the possibility that the terrible wound of 9/11 has only been made larger by the so-called “war on terror”, and that what is needed is lament for the horror visited upon the US and global community, and a strategy of generosity to bind the wounds of all who suffer, and build a different kind of world. One in which I look at the painful impact of my own choices and those of my government as well as challenging the violence of others.
And if you don’t know any Muslims, contact your local Islamic Center or interfaith community group, and ask for the opportunity to listen.
3: Don't repress your anger.
Truly honoring the victims - both those directly affected by the attack, and those in the LGBTQ community who survive despite continued attempts to diminish our lives, or even persecute us - must mean not quickly passing over the horror of what has happened. Anger is not only legitimate, but a necessary part of healthy grieving. So I will lament to the heavens, and rage against the systems and shadows that contribute to the story that says LGBTQ people are somehow fundamentally flawed or even toxic. But I want to find ways to express that anger without dehumanizing others or stepping onto the path of vengeance. Rage and creativity can collaborate in peaceable ways.
4: Celebrate your own beauty and gifts.
Many of us in the LGBTQ community grew up being told that there was something fundamentally wrong with us. For some, it has been a daily struggle to believe otherwise. A time is coming when we will be celebrated as gifts, people in touch with our inner selves, people of mercy and compassion, people of vibrant creative gifts, people whose communities welcome the stranger and the screwed-up alike, people sensitive to the needs of the world. That time may not be here yet, but its arrival will be speeded by us owning these truths for ourselves first.
5: Don’t give in to fear, instead ground yourself in the strength to Love
Tending to the needs of the victims and survivors of this attack must be a priority for anyone who is able to help. For the rest of us, it’s important not to buy into the popular belief that the world is getting worse. Each killing is a universe, and we need to find ways to deepen our care for victims, survivors, and loved ones, and to work to prevent future violence. And violence is already actually generally reducing, and we live in the most peaceable time in human history. We know that some of the factors that reduce violence include the empowerment of women, the spread of thoughtful education, the development of democracy, and the evolution of empathy. Each of us can participate in all of those. We can start by listening to each other’s stories rather than merely asserting our own truth, and listening for the purpose of understanding rather than debate or even agreement.
You can reduce violence today by the story you tell yourself and the people around you: that humans have never had more opportunities to connect across lines of difference, that healing modalities for trauma and violence have never been in greater supply, and that strategies for resolving conflicts non-violently have never been more resourced or available.
Fear is a story that hurts, partly by how it distorts reality. Love is a story that heals without denying wounds. One of them works. I need your help to choose love.