Photo: Sancho McCann, CC BY 2.0
I am heartbroken, and I am outraged.
Over the past few days, I have been trying to deal with the mass murder of members of the LGBTQ community and their allies that took place in a nightclub in Orlando. I have been reading editorials and political speeches, I have watched the posturing and the outpouring of grief.
A murderer walked into a gay nightclub and killed nearly fifty people. He wounded dozens more. But this tragedy begins a long time before that.
It has already been amply demonstrated that the murderer grew up in a country saturated by a particularly toxic brand of masculinity, one that tries to make up for its declining power in society through displays of violence, be they potential or real. It has been amply demonstrated that the murderer grew up in a country that condemns gun violence while expediting the spread of its means.
So instead I want to talk about religion.
This murderer grew up as the son of a man who vilified gay people, because his religion told him to. On Monday he said “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality.” Even if he meant it as to say it wasn’t his son’s place to kill gay people himself, this is the belief that pervaded the murderer’s childhood. The murderer himself, it turns out, may have been gay himself, as reports continue to surface of his having used certain dating apps and of visiting the nightclub multiple times before.
In the past days I have seen #ThoughtsAndPrayers from all manners of religion in America. I have seen prayer masses organized and missives expressing compassion published from major Christian denominations who shall go unnamed in this post. But, to me at least, there is something so deeply chilling about these condolences.
Because many of these religions believe being gay is labeled immoral. Many of these religions believe being gay is disordered. They hold as tenets that their god will punish people for “homosexual acts,” as though it were reasonable to tell one group of people their form of lovemaking was evil, while another more popular form was good. They label is “unnatural,” despite the fact that homosexual behaviour has been seen in dozens and dozens of other species around the world. And this othering is culpable in every hate crime against the LGBTQ community.
For any religion to offer any kind of honest consolation to the LGBTQ community, for this or any other act of violence against it, it must first accept religion’s role in vilifying that community for thousands of years, making that community the target of the othering, lessening, and dehumanizing that precipitate such attacks. If you believe your god will punish people for being gay, if your religion preaches that homosexuality is a disorder, you must admit your religion’s partial role in creating the tragedies that unfold before us time and time again.
Yes, the victims of Sunday’s tragedy in Orlando were killed by a man. They were killed by a man with a gun. And they were killed by a man with a gun and a deep fear and hatred of a group of people that religions commonly see and demonstrate as acceptable to judge. The sanctioned treatment of the LGBTQ community as “lesser,” as “other,” as “target” — the preached and accepted judgement of the LGBTQ community as “sinful,” “unnatural,” and “disordered” — is one of the things that killed those forty-nine people.
So unless your religion is preparing a mea culpa along with those prayers, I don’t think all that many people are going to be ready to hear them.
I know I’m not.
Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.