by Benjamin Oh, 14 June 2016

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The killing of our LGBTIQ siblings and allies in Orlando affected me in an immense, intense, emotional way that I am still yet to fully comprehend. However, if you think the Orlando murders are your chance to throw in another anti-Muslim religiophobic sentiment or diminish LGBTIQ realities, think twice.


Murdering is not just the violent physical act of killing someone, it can also be done in many other ways. We have seen them in words, in prayers and even in the practice of science.

 


We murder someone when we make their lives invisible and their realities, experiences, hopes and aspirations invalid. LGBTIQ folks and their loved ones experience this first hand. LGBTIQ folks continue to get caught up in the violent spaces of our schoolyards, our houses of worship, our workplaces, our social-cultural and even our home community spaces.

 

 

Homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic languages, practices and ideologies continue to plague many of our communities. Heterosexism, cisgenderism and xenophobia are problems beyond that of one community, one culture, one country, one creed or one person. The question remains: Do we not have within our diverse experiences solutions of mutual care and radical hospitality for a shared humanity on a shared planet?
Have we not been able to move beyond the dichotomy and divisiveness of the alienation of “the other” to develop inclusive, compassionate societies that practice mutual care, compassion, understanding and hospitality for our children’s sake, even after the atrocities of such xenophobic violence witnessed by the world throughout and after the World Wars? All wars – political or cultural – are violent, dehumanizing and driven by the discourse of xenophobia.

 

 

The Orlando massacre could been have been committed by any person associated with any nationality, belief or political affiliation, an unhinged person, a person of any age, any social standing (remember the killing of David Kato, Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard, etc.), and perhaps by a person with internalised homophobia. When we give oxygen to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, it maims and murders any of its victims- gay and straight under the many names that still gives it credence.


Fanaticism is the endpoint of fundamentalism – be they religious or secular. It keeps out the multiplicity make-up of our human realities and experiences, it is fueled by fear and ignorance. Having witnessed how self-righteous religious chauvinists patronize my atheist and free-thinking mates, and having also experienced this in reverse when religiophobic people demeans any religious expression or contribution, we know that fundamentalism and dogmatism- religious or secular – are all too real and alive. Traits of the fundamentalist are found in those who pray for my Catholic homosexual soul to be ‘redeemed’ and it is also found in fundamentalist who calls any religion evil and religious beliefs ignorant. These warring dichotomies are created by the ideologues who fuel the fires of xenophobia, religiophobia, homophobia and transphobia.

 

This event in Orlando has affected many of us and some of us are still trying to process it all. We know all too well that this harming and killing of LGBTIQ lives is an ongoing daily reality. Our lives are continually harmed because of ignorance and hate. In trying to explain this event to myself the fact that whilst the killing ignores the dignity of the various aspects those human persons, it was an attack on a LGBTIQ safe-place, a sanctuary, is pivotal. As a gay person with strong cultural and religious affiliation, a ‘Sanctuary’ has expansive meanings beyond that of a spiritual space, it is also a physical place where I can be who ‘I am’, without fear or prejudice. The fact that we still need safe places is an indictment on our entire community.

 

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The reality is that religious spaces, like LGBTI spaces, are far from being the sanctuaries and places of human flourishing they ought to be. I know for a fact that many religious spaces remain misogynistic, transphobic and homophobic spaces. I know that many LGBTI spaces remain laterally violent, privilege-centric, religiophobic and racist spaces. Yet those safe-spaces can often be the only ones where we find the little oxygen we need for our spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical nourishment. Those spaces, however limited, still at least provide some possibility to express the intimate parts of who we are without being the targets of the prevailing ignorance, prejudice, violence and hate found in the more widespread dominant spaces and narratives. In these spaces, we can feel that it is possible to fall in love, to love oneself and to love another. A sanctuary allows us to be ourselves, a first step to growing.

 

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Beyond the public narratives that denies and ignores the homophobic and transphobic nature of the Orlando massacre, there are those from all sides of the analysis, including some within the LGBTIQ community that propagate the false dichotomy of ‘gays versus religion’, ‘Islam versus freedom’, ‘minority rights vs. collective rights’, ‘liberal vs. conservative’. These are dichotomized narratives that are intellectually dishonest and leave already marginalised people even more vulnerable. It is often framed as being ‘interesting’, in reality it is callous and harmful. Having been blest to work with many inspirational leaders who are LGBITQ folks and courageous allies that come from diverse religious and non-dominant cultural backgrounds. This massacre in Orlando at Pulse nightclub on a Latino night reminds us just how vulnerable and still marginalised we are, as LGBTIQ minorities of colour and of religious backgrounds.

 

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Proponents in Australia for the removal of the Safe Schools Program and a non-binding wasteful plebiscite on Marriage Equality have used some of this polarising framing to wage their cultural warfare. There is little care by the ideologues of the damage it will do, we are just ‘collateral damage’. The rhetoric is always clumsy and infantile: ‘Religious Freedom vs. Gay Rights’, ‘Family vs. Gays’, ‘Religion vs. Gays’, ‘Majority rights vs. Minority Right’, ‘Cake decorator vs. Gays’. All this conveniently ignores the fact that the actual reality is found once we remove the divisive ‘versus’. There is no ‘other’, the enemies are created and the wars are senselessly damaging. We need to debunk these myths – many LGBTIQ folks are religious, they have families. Religious communities have LGBTIQ people within them, families can be made up of same sex parents, as they can be made up of grandparent guardians, single parent families. These are facts and a reality – not an idea or figment of someone’s imagination.

 

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Our diverse stories and experiences get jailed and partitioned at the prison of hegemonic metanarratives of the ideologues in the intersectional spheres of our being. Our ethnicity, our religious affiliation, our sexual orientation, our gender identity or our intersex status is sectioned off and our whole self is divided into different jail cells, for fear that we might complicate and mess up the systems of oppression. Our diverse stories of religious experience and as cultural and community contributors continue to be simplified, tokenised and harmonised for the consumption of the dominant demographic. We are treated often with contempt or merely as ‘issues’ and clienteles of hegemonic narratives that continue to either ignore or oppress us. LGBTIQ Muslims, Catholics, Japanese, Jews, Buddhist, Latinos, Iranians, Atheists exist. Many of us come from and are actively part of those communities. Many of us have also risked much of our lives to build bridges of understanding, working exhaustively to debunk the very false dichotomies generated by the polarizing ideologue discourses that continues to debilitate and disempower.

 

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Why has the Orlando massacre shocked me and perhaps others to the core? I first kissed a boy that I fell in love in a gay nightclub. I met my first group of LGBTIQ friends at a nightclub. They all remain as part of those I identify as my family. As I have now (finally) come to understand, meeting someone in a place for fellowship, for shared experiences and even being present in a place with calming sights and sounds, is such a common theme within the human experience (Hello? Been to a house of worship?). Being the frightened, strongly culturally affiliated and religiously engaged young gay person then, I discovered a sanctuary at the only gay nightclub I knew and at a time before I could even identify myself as being a homosexual person. It was the most subversive space I knew then as I thought of myself as no longer the only ‘freak-incident’ in my universe. It was there that I found more of ‘my people’, beyond those of my home and my religious community. I felt for the first time that I was not a ‘freak’ when I was there. That is what a safe place, a sanctuary feels like.

 

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I was born in Malaysia, a country where my family is part of a religious and a racial minority, where religious and racial bigotry is still rife and blatant. This is a country where undercover police monitor our religious services and politicians tell us how we have religious freedom whilst declaring that our beliefs and religion are a threat to society. It is a country where forced conversion is sanctioned and apostasy is prosecuted by law. Oh, and did I mention, homosexuality is a punishable criminal offence! This is also where my experience as gay person is treated with hostility within my cultural and religious community. I have also experience this in Australia. Sometimes, it feels as if I was plonked onto this planet to understand what a sanctuary feels like by seeing that it is – not like this.

 

This is why many of us know that the attack on Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando is fuelled by xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia, just as the attack at Stonewall many years ago came from the same roots as the political undermining of Pink Dot an LGBTIQ affirming annual event recently held in Singapore. There are many examples of collective and individual oppression and violence that continue to affect many of us acutely around the world such as the killing of our first gay magazine editor in Bangladesh 2 months ago, the continual persecution and harassment of our Trans community in Malaysia, the passing of laws in Uganda that not only make homosexual acts criminal but require ‘suspects’ to be reported, Russia’s ludicrous anti-gay propaganda laws and the continual denial and silencing of LGBTIQ asylum seeker and refugee realities. Whilst the ideologues war within their heads, they transfer their unprocessed and unreflected hate on those at the sharpest end of their violent conflict spreading division, violence and hate. The message is we shouldn’t exist – if we dare be visible, heard or just alive.

 


We need moral and ethical courage to not just dialogue but also name the diseases of homophobia, transphobia, racism and religiophobia. Prayers may be helpful, words of solidarity may even be consoling, but unless we treat those diseases, it will continue to maim and kill. It is not a time to be paralysed by inaction whilst the deafening silent prayers of privilege and apathy complement the superficially beautiful words and hollow sympathy that follows the unholy ‘Amen’ of the bigots united for the status quo.

 


There is no place for the violence of silence where bigotry is normative, accepted and unchallenged, regardless of the spaces we occupy. If we truly want a better world, look out for the least and invisible amongst us, those unseen and unheard, kept out of sight and out of mind. Ensure that those hurting voices are privileged and heard, those lived experiences are recognized and not just dismissed, diminished or ‘managed’. Resist metanarratives. Be mindful of neocolonial behaviours. Ethically engage and encounter in a way that doesn’t colonize others right to self-determination. Build interdependence not dependency. Challenge ourselves to dialogue with the unusual suspects. Make a few unlikely friends and stick with them. Build-bridges! Enter into dialogues of understanding. Seriously, love your enemies, especially the perceived ones within as well as without. We are often, after all, our worst enemies.


The different levels of violence expressed in the ‘Pyramid of Hate’ pitted out against LGBTIQ folks and other minorities will continue to reinforce one another so long as we remain trapped in our limited cycle of being victims, oppressors, bystanders of heterosexism, cisgenderism and xenophobia. We as LGBTIQ folks together with our brave allies and supporters have accidentally been put into laterally creative roles of being mediator, learner and educator –agents of solidarity and creativity to offer a different path to the status quo that is clearly not working. This painful and tragic massacre in Orlando begs us to intensify our efforts and to invite others to join us in taking up prophetic roles to become sages of understanding, openness, compassion, dialogue, sanctuary and welcoming. We’ve got the stories, the human insights and the lived experiences. We need to now connect them up. Oppression and suffering is not new to any of us.


We need to act now in solidarity, to speak out, stand up and take actions against violence and bigotry. The dominant and non-dominant cultures must be in dialogue and respectfully and ethically engage with one another. People of faith and none must stand side by side to especially support our LGBTIQ Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Baha’i, Taoist, Jain, Sikh siblings and those from non-dominant cultural backgrounds, those unseen, who all too often become marginalised, invisible, placed in situations whereby they must choose between their identities with often all too devastating and even fatal consequences. As a human community, we need to develop and practice the compassion, kindness,  mutual care and radical hospitality that our ancestors passed on to us and heed the teachings that enriches our entire humanity if we are truly to be the best of the sum of all that have gone before us.

 


With many of us living still within xenophobic, patriarchal, heterosexist, cisgenderist and disablist societal frameworks, we have our work cut-out for us as individuals and as people of diverse backgrounds seeking a kinder society. For this I ask that these words, prayers to be heard: That LGBTIQ lives especially those within marginalised communities, which are often voiceless and invisible may find authentic voices, genuine welcoming and human flourishing. May their dignity, their experiences, their love, their gifts, their differences, their very being, be acknowledged, supported, nourished and celebrated and not just paternalistically accepted. Only maybe then, may these prayers, these words of righteous anger be useful and truly heard. Then let us altogether say ‘Amen!’

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