SUCH a sad few days since news of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub broke on Sunday. The worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11, the worst gun crime in US history, and perhaps the largest murder of LGBT people since the Holocaust. How do we respond in the face of such horror?
I have struggled to find my own words, but my husband and I, as co-facilitators of Open Table, a monthly Christian service for LGBT people, friends family and allies in Liverpool, UK, I have shared on our community Facebook group a range of responses, including my own:
Pray for the victims, the attacker (also killed), and especially those who will judge this incident with homophobia, islamophobia and racism not compassion.
Some Church leaders have issued responses – Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church Michael Curry recorded a video offering prayers for the victims of the Orlando shooting, recognising the significance of this event as part of the struggle for equal civil rights for all people. The Vatican released a statement from Pope Francis which was criticised for not acknowledging the LGBT identities of the victims. The Church of England at first recycled its prayer for Paris and Lahore, then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a joint statement which, while it did acknowledge that LGBT people were the victims of this brutal incident, was criticised for not going far enough in acknowledging the role of Christian communities in contributing to (and challenging) homophobia. Following such criticism, the Church of England issued a new prayer for Orlando which named
all whose identity makes them the ready target of hatred and violence
and called for
a world where all are celebrated for who they are as your children.
The leaders of the UK Methodist Conference issued a powerful statement expressing solidarity with the LGBTI community and apologising for an earlier statement that did not go far enough. Meanwhile the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross wrote on Twitter:
Our prayers are shallow, an affront even, as long as so much religion fails fully to affirm and include LGBT people #Orlando
— paul colton (@b2dac) June 12, 2016
Revd Rachel Mann, a trans vicar at Manchester Cathedral, shared this beautiful prayer, which we will pray together when we meet for our monthly service this Sunday, incorporating a vigil for the victims of this hate crime in Orlando.
It was moving to see so many people take to the streets of Orlando, London, Liverpool, and other cities in solidarity with the victims, survivors, and the LGBT community worldwide as this event highlights our vulnerability in a world which struggles to accept our diversity.
One of the responses we found most moving was this tweet:
Trust me when I say that even your bravest, most confident, most fine-seeming LGBT loved one badly needs to hear you say “you matter to me.”
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) June 13, 2016
In our monthly bulletin to the Open Table community this week, I shared this message and wrote:
We can honestly say that each and every one of you matter to us. We want you to know that, if you were in any doubt.
I realised at this point that I was sharing with others words of hope and comfort that I really needed to hear myself. It is hard (but not impossible) for people who are not LGBT to understand the impact of this incident (and too many others like it around the world). Alex Darke, from Texas, expressed it well in his Facebook post this week:
When you hear interviewers talking to LGBT folks and they say “It could have been here. It could have been me,” they aren’t exaggerating. I don’t care how long you’ve been out, how far down your road to self acceptance and love you’ve traveled, we are always aware that we are at some level of risk.
I won’t dwell on the responses from those who, in the name of religion, have claimed that:
Less obvious, and perhaps more insidious, are those who cannot name that this was an attack specifically targeted at LGBT people. In the case of some Christians, this is because that would mean they have to acknowledge our right to exist at all, as this Facebook post from the founder of Diverse Church demonstrates:
I don’t think they realise how painful their words are to every LGBT person listening… what they’re communicating (overtly or covertly) is that they don’t care that people like us were killed. In a world where it is a very real possibility that we could be, in a country where every LGBT person I know has experienced looks of hatred and experienced fear of physical violence if they hold hands with someone in the wrong street, THEIR REACTION SEEMS LIKE THE LEAST CHRIST LIKE THING THEY COULD DO!
It has emerged that the Orlando attacker may have been a gay man ashamed of his sexuality because of his understanding of religion. I pray that out of this tragedy may come greater awareness of the damage of stigma and prejudice and the power of love, especially love between LGBT people.
But the simplest and most profound response I have seen was this meme, referencing the name of the nightclub, Pulse, so called in memory of the owner’s brother who died from AIDS.
All of humanity shares #OnePulse
While it is vital to celebrate our diversity and difference, it’s also important at times like this to remember that we each have more in common with the rest of humanity that what sets us apart.