As the LGBT and Latino communities mourned, right-wing religionists pounced to exploit the moment.
With 49 victims dead in a shooting attack at a gay Latino nightclub last Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida, LGBT people all over the country are experiencing a kind of grief that only members of marginalized communities can fathom: that of being targeted simply for the fundamentals of one’s identity, for all that it represents to those who hate you. The same is surely true for Latinos, who have absorbed an epic level of hate speech aimed at them this election campaign.
The shooter’s last-minute self-identification with the extremist Islamist insurgency, ISIS, is providing sustenance to self-described Christians who wish us harm. Now, along come the haters, posing as our champions.
“Our nation is at war. From 9/11 to the Boston Marathon, from Fort Hood to Chattanooga, from San Bernardino to last night’s horrific attack in Orlando, radical Islamic terrorism has declared jihad on America,” Ted Cruz, United States senator from Texas and vanquished Republican presidential candidate, wrote in a statement issued the day of the massacre.
Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, an anti-LGBT Christian group, sounded the same note in a press release: “This heartbreaking attack is yet more evidence of the radical Islamic terrorism our country is facing right here on our own soil,” Nance wrote. “We must not sacrifice our safety in the name of political correctness and instead take action to stop it.”
Cruz is even more prescriptive, instructing Democrats on what they need to do to save us LGBT folk—the very people demonized by the likes of Cruz and Nance. “For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians,” Cruz wrote. “If you’re a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder.”
Oh, so now Latinos and queer folk like me are “our fellow Americans”? Let’s not forget how Cruz, during his quest for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, led the deport-’em-all charge against undocumented immigrants, leveraging his followers’ contempt for Spanish-speaking people, whether documented or not. And it was just months ago that Cruz was decrying LGBT leaders for “wag[ing] jihad” against “people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.”
He did this at a candidate forum in Iowa that featured Kevin Swanson, a speaker who has repeatedly called for the death penalty for “homosexuals,” according to Right Wing Watch—even from the stage of that very same “summit.” From Right Wing Watch:
The summit, called the National Religious Liberties Conference, even distributed literature calling for the death penalty for gay people and others, mentioning stoning and throwing people off cliffs as possible forms of executions.
And when Robert Dear, a right-wing Christian, walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and killed three people in November, Cruz used the occasion to demonize trans people, claiming that the killer might be “a transgendered (sic) leftist activist.”
For her part, Penny Nance represents an organization that has been at the forefront of ginning up anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. Just last month, Nance published a screed against bills protecting transgender people who use public restrooms according to their gender identity by asserting those bills posed a grave threat to women and girls.
Just the day before the Orlando massacre, I attended a right-wing conference, Road to Majority, convened by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. There, I heard David and Jason demean trans people from the main stage. (“I’m going to join the WNBA, and I will dominate,” one of the brothers, who are identical twins, told the appreciative crowd.) The Benhams are minor celebrities whose show was canned by HGTV before it ever aired because of anti-gay remarks made by David Benham. Now, of course, they’re right-wing heroes.
I attended a break-out session titled “Bullies, Bathrooms and Big Brother,” where preacher Jason Jimenez accused leaders in the LGBT community of bullying local governments, such as Charlotte, North Carolina’s, into adopting public restroom protections for trans people. He derided the queer community’s inclusion of intersex people in its coalition by equating them with “dog lovers”—the clear implication being one of bestiality.
That evening, Ralph Reed would bestow his organization’s Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award on Concerned Women for America founder Beverly LaHaye—author of the notorious anti-LGBT pamphlet, The Hidden Homosexual Agenda, who once claimed that gay men were becoming teachers and Boy Scout leaders in order to “recruit” children to their “lifestyle.”
In 2007, Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute aligned itself with the Ugandan government as it advanced a bill that would carry the death penalty for sex between people of the same gender.Introducing an audio segment that featured Janet Crouse, then the institute’s director, a page on the CWA website lauded Uganda, “a predominantly Christian nation,” for “taking a biblical and cultural stand against the radical homosexual agenda.” (CWA has apparently purged the accompanying audio file, as well as Crouse’s biography, from the site.)
AS REPORTS EMERGED that Omar Mateen, the murderer who massacred the patrons of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on Latin Night, was himself a patron of the club, as well as a subscriber to a gay hook-up phone app, it was only a matter of hours before his despicable deed was ascribed by right-wingers not only to his Muslim faith, but to the possibility that he was gay. Indeed, it appears to be a complicated stew of self-loathing and search for redemption by identifying himself with ISIS, a terrorist insurgency that claims to represent the definitive, authentic form of Islam, that led Mateen to commit the sort of mass murder by AR-15 (thank you, NRA!) that has become a peculiarly American phenomenon.
Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and big ally of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, got the ball rolling by “accus[ing] LGBT and radical Islamic leaders of working together so they can promote pedophilia and abuse children,” according to Right Wing Watch, which quotes Jones as saying: “No wonder the radical left is allied with Islam, they’re a bunch of perverts, they want access to our kids,” he said.
So, sure, the hatred preached by extremists in the Muslim faith is a huge problem for LGBT people all over the world. But so is that preached by extremists in the Christian faiths. And that right-wing Christian worldview set the stage for Mateen’s actions every bit as much as did his own faith; perhaps even more. It provided the daily reinforcement for his self-loathing, through the utterances of right-wing political candidates, and the blatherings of right-wing media.
Religious-right leaders, spare me your crocodile tears. Don’t use me, or any of my queer sisters and brothers, to justify your war on Muslims, on immigrants, on women, or on anybody.
While we mourn, do us a favor: Shut the hell up. It’s the decent thing to do.