Ellis Harris: “Homophobia Still a Problem in the Western World”

With the legalisation of same sex marriage in the US in 2015, and in the UK the previous year, it’s easy to see why some view the fight for LGBTQ+ rights as over. Yet the tragic loss of life in an Orlando gay plus nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning serves as a harsh reminder that the fight against homophobia is not over. With the growing number of heart-breaking stories told by those present at the shooting, and by the families of those who died, people in years to come will remember where they were when the news of this event shook the world.

Pulse, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando Florida, was holding a Latino night on Saturday when Omar Mateen, a 29 year old man from New York, shot dead 49 people, injuring 53 more. It is now the single worst gun massacre in recent US history. With the investigation still ongoing, the finer details of the cause of the event are still unclear, but one thing is starkly apparent – that this was an act of terrorism and of hateful homophobia.

“One thing is starkly apparent, that this was an act…of hateful homophobia”

In an interview, the shooter’s father states that his son was not highly religious, but became disgusted after seeing two men kissing in front of his family. This was not a random act of violence – there was a target. With this is mind, the nature of homophobia in the West has become the forefront of conversation once more.

Homophobia is alive and well. Being bullied as an LGBTQ+ child or teen is commonplace. Meeting new people, and having to critically assess whether or not they are the kind of people who will understand and accept one’s identity without ridicule, becomes an act of instinct LGBTQ+ people take in order to protect themselves. Hiding relationships from loved ones, friends, co-workers, being afraid to publicly display affection with a partner, or having one’s sexual or gender identification erased because it does not fit neatly into a box is just seen as part of LGBTQ+ life. This is casual homophobia, and a huge contributor to homophobic attitudes in society that is often ignored or accepted both by people outside the LGBTQ+ community and within it. These, and countless other incidents, are acts that can easily be dismissed by those who do not have to face them. It is easy to dismiss the arguments of LGBTQ+ activists who cry for more justice. It is easy to dismiss anecdotes of LGBTQ+ people as being too sensitive or invalid.

“Solidarity is the word that resonates the loudest”

I attended the first of many vigils held in Nottingham on Monday at 7:00pm. Multi-coloured wax dripped from candles onto the rain-soaked pavement in front of the Brian Clough Statue on Speaker’s Corner. The vigil was held with particular focus on the people of colour who lost their lives, since the attack happened during a Latino night. People were invited to share their words with those in attendance, words of heartbreak, of the fight against hatred, of standing together, but most of all, love. Poetry was read, songs were sung, Brian Clough was wrapped in a patchwork quilt showing the variety of the LGBT+ community and signs of love were held high. At the end of the vigil, a list of the names of the victims was displayed above the melting candles. This vigil was not on the same scale as the vigil on Old Compton Street, which brought London to a standstill, but the amount of love was just as strong. Solidarity is the word that resonates the loudest. Solidarity with people of colour. Solidarity with religions. Solidarity as a united LGBTQ+ community and with those outside of the community. We stood side by side with candles and shouted the words “Black and Brown, Trans and Queer, Our Lives Matter”.

Pride events will be taking place in the UK in the upcoming months. They will celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, but will no doubt be tinged with grief. But if anything is learnt from the aftermath of the shootings, it is that the message of love is the one that resonates the loudest. Homophobia is still a very real problem in the Western world, but both the LGBTQ+ community and those outside of it will stand in solidarity against intolerance. To quote Owen Jones in a video posted by The Guardian, “The determination and the love of LGBTQ+ people all over this planet will burn even brighter because of what he (the gunman) did”.

Ellis Harris

Image: courtesy of Ellis Harris

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