By now, most people have heard of the horrific tragedy that occurred late Saturday night in the Orlando, Florida nightclub. My social media has been full of people mourning the deaths of people who were executed for no other reason than their sexuality, for no other reason than Omar Mateen was angered by the sight of two men kissing. The deaths of 49 people — and the wounding of 53 — is a terrible loss, and the anger many people feel about Mateen’s ability to obtain his artillery, despite being watched by the FBI, is justified. However, what appears lacking from the conversation is a connection between Mateen and the recent swell in anti-LGBT legislation.
Mateen’s actions did not occur in a vacuum. There is no way to know what would have happened in a more LGBT friendly climate, but it is naive not to draw a connection between general homophobia and Mateen’s specific actions.
Florida’s governor, Rick Scott (R), was quick to offer condolences to the families of those who were hurt and killed. “It’s devastating when you see how many people lost their life, and just the impact it’s gonna have on their families — I mean, I’ve got kids and grandkids — can’t imagine,” he said, as well as, “This a wonderful community… right now this is the time to grieve.”
Wonderful as Scott may have felt this community to be, they could still be fired from their jobs purely for their sexual preference and would be stripped of any legal protection.
Florida is one of the many states that doesn’t have many legislative protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The state has no laws prohibiting employers from unfairly firing, discriminating against, or refusing to hire LGBT people. The state also lacks any laws prohibiting discrimination in housing — such as unfair eviction, the denial of housing, or the refusal to rent or sell housing — or in public accommodations and credit and lending.
The hypocrisy extends far beyond Rick Scott. Senator Marco Rubio (R) said, “My focus is on the fact that innocent people who were doing nothing wrong, with plans to be somewhere doing something this afternoon, lost their lives.” Yet in 2013, when the Senate voted on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal bill that would prohibit job discrimination against LGBT people nationwide, he voted against it.
Many more Congresspeople from Florida were offering their condolences in the wake of the massacre. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) tweeted, “My thoughts & prayers are with the victims, families & people of Orlando” and called it a “barbaric terrorist attack.” Rep. John Mica said in a statement, “The whole community is shocked and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families from these events.” Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R) said he “mourn[s] the tragic loss of life,” adding, “Orlando, we are all here for you.” Rep. Dennis Ross (R) called it an “evil act” and added, “I ask all Americans to join me in prayer for the victims and their families.” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Yet just last month, all of them were part of a group of 12 Florida Representatives who voted against an amendment that would have prohibited federal funds from going to contractors who discriminate against their employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And a bill in the Florida legislature that would have added employment and housing protections for LGBT people died when it failed to pass out of a Senate committee in February thanks to objections from Republicans who feared transgender girls using women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. One of the state Senators who voted against it, Jeff Brandes (R), posted on Facebook, “Praying for our Orlando neighbors.”
Senator Pat Roberts (R) from Kansas tweeted that he was sending “thoughts & prayers” to the victims of the horrible violence and their loved ones…and yet, back in 2014, he used the idea of same-sex marriage as being “too liberal” as part of his reelection campaign.
Representative Pete Olson (R) from Texas and Senator Shelley Moore (R) from West Virginia also publicly campaigned against same sex marriage and yet had no problem tweeting condolences and prayers to the Orlando community following the attack.
Mitch McConnell (R) from Kentucky, the Senate Majority Leader, also sent “the nation’s prayers” to the victims, and yet was one of 32 senators to vote against a recent LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill.
The list goes on and on, including Paul Ryan (R), the Speaker of the House, who voted against adding crimes against LGBTQ individuals to the legal list of hate crimes, voted twice to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage, and opposed repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and yet found the time to pray for those attacked; Representative Mimi Walters (R) from California and Representative David Young (R) from Iowa, who both opposed a bill’s amendment that would have ended discriminatory practices by federal contractors working with LGBTQ employees; and, of course, Donald Trump, Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee, who, too, found time to pray for the victims and their families, and yet has said he would strongly consider trying to reverse the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision if elected president. He also said he would repeal many of Obama’s executive orders, some of which protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
Even in states with long traditions of support for equality, anti-equality lawmakers are introducing anti-LGBT bills.A new law in Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.Tennessee also has a “bathroom bill,” plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.
When the Arkansas governor rescinded local LGBT rights ordinances in 2015, for example, it got next to no media attention. Last month, North Carolina passed one of the most sweeping anti-LGBT laws in the nation within 24 hours, moving so quickly that critics hardly had time to campaign against it.
In 2016, the Human Rights Campaign expects more than two dozen state legislatures to consider anti-equality measures. These include legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Over 80 anti-LGBT bills were pending across the United States in April 2016.
Much as Trump has been described as the result of years of Republican agendas brought to life, it should be impossible to separate Mateen’s actions from this wave of legalized discrimination. The fact that all these Republican politicians don’t seem to see the hypocrisy of their actions does not mean that we turn a blind eye to it. Mateen was fed by this sanctioned homophobia, a beast brought to life by repeated anti-gay messaging. These politicians may not have fired the gun, but they definitely handed it to him.
If you tell someone over and over again that a certain kind of person is not worth protecting, you can then not turn a blind eye when he has the audacity to believe you.