Thoughts and prayers are not enough

With Orlando in mind, confronting systemic homophobia and transphobia is crucial

Thoughts and prayers are not enough

On Sunday, June 12, a man entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Latin night. Armed with  two legally purchased weapons, he murdered 49 people and wounded 53.

Acts of violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community are not new — and they are common in Canada, as well as the US. Statistics Canada reports show that in 2013, 16 per cent of all police-reported hate crimes in Canada were motivated by sexual orientation. Of those crimes, 66 per cent were violent. The Trans Pulse Project reported in 2014 that 20 per cent of trans people living in Ontario had experienced physical or sexual assault.

Orlando should act as a sobering reminder of how queer people continue to live in fear of being targeted. However, the public response to tragedies such as this is often disappointing. Every mass shooting or act of violence brings an inevitable barrage of celebrities, politicians, and everyday citizens expressing their condolences, publicly sending their ‘thoughts and prayers.’ A few people call for stricter gun control laws, then they move on until the next tragedy hits.

[pullquote-features]Looking at my own Facebook feed, I saw condolences from people I know to be homophobic and transphobic — people who use slurs and think nothing of it, people who think being queer is bad or a cause for mockery.[/pullquote-features]

Most people who send out sympathetic messages on social media probably have the best intentions. But looking at my own Facebook feed, I saw condolences from people I know to be homophobic and transphobic — people who use slurs and think nothing of it, people who think being queer is bad or a cause for mockery. From their perspective, what they say may seem harmless — but it’s not. What begins as hateful rhetoric can result in somebody walking into a gay nightclub and shooting 49 people.

It’s frankly insulting to the LGBTQ+ community to see people like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tweet support and prayers for the Orlando victims and their families. Huckabee once compared legalizing gay marriage to legalizing incest; in an effort to insult trans people, he also stated that he would have pretended to be female in high school to watch girls shower.

Huckabee has said he wants to pray for the Orlando victims, yet he fails to acknowledge that they were largely queer and Latinx; many people who expressed their condolences also refused to acknowledge the identities of the victims. This erasure is not only an insult to the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities, but it also allows people to memorialize Orlando in a superficial way, without confronting their own homophobia, transphobia, and racism.

We cannot overlook the fact that individuals who harbour homophobic and transphobic beliefs are partially responsible for creating the conditions under which these attacks happen: a culture of violence, dismissal, and shame.

[pullquote-default]We cannot overlook the fact that individuals who harbour homophobic and transphobic beliefs are partially responsible for creating the conditions under which these attacks happen.[/pullquote-default]

Unfortunately, pretty much every queer person knows what it’s like to be afraid within this culture. I know many people who are forced to remain closeted for their own safety, who cannot hold their partner’s hand in public out of fear, or who wear clothes that conform to gender dichotomous standards just to keep themselves safe. Many expressed fear at attending gay nightclubs following the shooting.

I personally know that fear. When I was 15, I was in my first relationship with another girl. We were standing outside a restaurant after a date and I asked if I could kiss her. She said she wanted to but she wasn’t familiar with the neighbourhood and was worried that something might happen. That “something” could have been somebody yelling a slur at us, or maybe even someone attacking us.

These fears are ones that straight and cisgender people will simply never have to worry about. Yet, for queer people, these concerns are constant.

What happened in Orlando is incalculably horrible. That nightclub should have been a safe space for queer folks, where you can dress in a way that truly expresses your gender identity and people will love you for it. A place where you can be with your partner, dance with them, kiss them, and not be afraid of shame or judgment. A place where your identity is not only okay, it’s something of which to be proud.

The fact that somebody came and invaded that space is incredibly wrong. Many of us must begin to question whether any safe spaces remain and whether being queer also means living in constant, endless fear.

Despite the progress that has been made for queer people in North America over the past few decades, there’s still a lot of work to do — that work does not begin and end with a tweet. It requires real dedication and commitment to change.

Everyone is responsible to stop using slurs, to stop turning queer identity into a joke. Further, you must challenge homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia when you see it and listen when you yourself are called out by the community for your mistakes. Ask the LGBTQ+ people in your life about what you can do to make them feel safer; work in solidarity with them to stop violence.

We are so strong. The love of this community is so much stronger than any act of hatred or violence. We have suffered through so much intolerance because the battle for change is difficult, but we continue to persevere. It is a testament to the strength of the LGBTQ+ community that we are still here, still loving, and still fighting.

Adina Heisler is a second-year University College student studying English and Women and Gender Studies.

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Hundreds gather to commemorate Pulse nightclub shooting victims

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Pride Month celebrations were interrupted in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse nightclub. A gunman opened fire on the crowd; 49 people were killed and 53 were injured.

Several commemorative ceremonies took place in Toronto, including three at the University of Toronto. U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office organized a commemoration at Hart House Circle, while the Equity and Diversity Office hosted a memorial at UTSC’s The Meeting Place.

LGBTOUT and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) held a vigil at King’s College Circle, where Julian Oliveira, member of LGBTOUT and organizer for the vigil, expressed his feelings about the tragedy: “The club was populated by queer and trans and Latinx performers and community members who stand with the queer and racialized communities in Orlando. We are suffering this loss together.”

Oliveira continued, “The answer to queerphobia is not Islamaphobia. We should not allow people to skew our knowledge of the facts, of what is right, and we must not let ourselves be tricked. We must stand together with other oppressed communities, for we are all fighting for equality, we are all fighting for love.”

The names of each of the victims were read out loud and the microphone was offered to anyone who wished to address the crowd. Several people expressed grief and praised the community’s support. A canvas was laid out and the audience was encouraged to leave messages.

A Toronto-wide vigil was held at Barbara Hall Park the night after the shooting. Several local leaders and politicians were present to address the hundreds of attendees.

“This doesn’t represent the sentiment or the actions of any faith,” Mayor of Toronto John Tory told The Varsity. “It doesn’t represent anybody except very deranged, clearly deranged persons and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come. But here, look around us tonight and there are people that can tell you how Toronto deals with these things, which is to stand in solidarity with each other.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also addressed the crowd.

“Our social miracle as we know it in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada can never be taken for granted,” Wong-Tam said. “And we have to let the people of the Americas know that we stand with them and that violence cannot be tolerated. And we will only ever respond to that type of violence with more love.”

Representatives from the LGBTQ community stressed the importance of community, while all shared a similar message of tolerance and understanding.

El-Farouk Khaki, community leader and Muslim-Queer activist, reminded the crowd of the involvement that the Queer-Muslim community has in Toronto.

“I come speaking for the Toronto Unity Mosque, for Universalists Muslims, and for the Salaam Queer-Muslim community: we don’t stand with you, we are you,” said Khaki. “So I stand with you as your brother, as your sibling in humanity, and I am given hope by the joy and by the unity. Unity is not sameness, but it is the celebration of our differences and our diversity.”

Toronto’s Pride celebrations are expected to continue as planned in the following weeks. “We still have to be vigilant,” said Tory. “We got to make it better, make sure it’s safe this coming month, which it will be.”


Malicious is the message

Racialized narratives surrounding the Orlando shooting should make us wary of media bias

Malicious is the message

When I heard about the shooting at Pulse nightclub on Sunday, June 12, the first thing I did was turn on the news to learn all the details of what had happened. Yet, things were different for a Muslim friend of mine; he had little interest in going on social media, or anywhere else, for information about the shooting — because he knew people would be talking negatively about Islam.

He wasn’t wrong. On Sunday, within minutes of reporting that the shooter’s name was Omar Mateen, CNN also told its viewers that he was raised in a Muslim family, supported ISIS, and had Afghani heritage.

This comes in stark contrast with other news reports; on the same day as the Orlando shooting, a white man was arrested on route to the Los Angeles Pride Parade with multiple guns and explosive materials on him. Yet the media did not report on his race, religion, heritage, or family beyond that. Donald Trump did not jump on the chance to tweet hateful things about white people, and Hillary Clinton did not blame the man’s religion for his actions. On the other hand, both politicians used Orlando to further their Islamophobic agendas and rhetoric, with Trump reiterating that the USA needs to suspend Muslim immigration, and Clinton blaming ‘radical Islamism’for the day’s events.

[pullquote-default]For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.[/pullquote-default]

This is clearly not a new phenomenon; the same thing happened after the attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Boston. For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.

It takes both liberal and conservative news channels and political figures no time at all to blame violence on Islam, overshadowing what is arguably much more important — in this case, the fact that the Orlando shooting was clearly a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, and disproportionately targeted racialized persons.

The mainstream media’s greatest mistake when it comes to the Orlando shootings was using the deaths of queer people of colour, specifically the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, to vilify another marginalized group. Instead of deliberating on why it is that queer and trans people of colour face disproportionate amounts of violence compared to white queer and trans people, the media focused on painting Muslims in broad strokes as inherently homophobic people, neglecting to recognize how this might affect queer Muslims.

Instead of drawing attention to hypermasculinity and easy access to firearms as contributors to the attacks, much of the media fostered more hate following the deaths in Orlando by playing into the East/West dividing rhetoric — which ultimately helps radical terrorists to carry out their motives.

We expect the news that we consume to be objective. However, this is problematic, because people of colour and racialized religions are talked about disproportionately after events like the Orlando shooting. Even though research shows that the people who commit the highest number of mass murders in America are young white men, we continue to associate brown men with terror. The media is partially to blame.

[pullquote-default]The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. [/pullquote-default]

The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. When we hear so much negative information about certain groups of people — particularly in times of crisis, when emotions and tensions are high — this information only serves to reinforce other stereotypes and channels of discrimination against these groups. As a result, individuals begin to believe hateful messages about these groups. We become angry at Muslims, and afraid of people of colour.

Furthermore, these marginalized communities then have to bear the consequences of sensationalist news reporting. After Islamophobic rhetoric rose to the surface following the Paris attacks, many Muslims all over the world reported being harassed — a mosque in Peterborough was set on fire, several mosques in the States were vandalized, and harassment against Muslims in London, England tripled.

Every religion has extremists, yet every day people who have racialized faiths are held responsible for crimes they would never commit and do not condone. In the case of Orlando, while the media focused on Islam, we heard much less about other oppressive actions against LGBTQ+ people, including those who had been victimized in the shooting.

We heard little, for example, about the Westboro Baptist Church — a radical religious group — who viciously protested homosexuality outside a funeral for a victim of the Orlando shooting. We heard about all the politicians who were supposedly saddened by the shooting, but the media neglected to mention the names of the many politicians that voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which makes homophobic hate crimes illegal under US federal law.

The way that we are given information in times of crisis should be something we are constantly analyzing and deliberating for ourselves. The Orlando shooting was a horrible tragedy, but the media has prioritized Islamophobia over paying respect to those 49 lives lost on June 12. Do not take what is given to us by major news outlets as absolute, and do not let rhetoric distract you from what is truly important.

In memory of the victims, here are their names.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old


Shailee Koranne is a third-year equity studies student at Victoria College.