Although support for LGBTQ rights is growing in America, the backlash among those who oppose it is growing at an alarming rate. After same sex marriage was made legal last summer, a flood of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced into state legislatures, in attempts to make it legal for people to use their religion as an excuse for discrimination.
While some Christians are worried about serving LGBTQ people at their businesses or sharing bathrooms with transgender people, the LGBTQ community is worried about their safety. They worry that they or their loved ones will become the next hate crime victim, that the next candlelight vigil will be decorated with their photos, that the next shooting will happen in their own bar. It could happen to anyone, because despite the progress made in LGBTQ rights, we still are surrounded by people who claim that their freedom of religion gives them freedom to discriminate, that their hatred trumps others’ rights to live their lives in peace.
Conservatives are trying to label this as Islamist terrorism, despite doubt about the shooter’s connection to ISIS because that way they don’t have to admit that this kind of hate crime is brought on by a culture that condemns and dehumanizes a minority population. This kind of hate crime is brought on by a culture that they created. The shooter was not Christian, but he was surrounded by a culture that would not even stand up when his bigotry was only expressed in words and say this is wrong. He was surrounded by a culture full of people who, though they themselves might not take an assault rifle into a gay nightclub to shoot more than 100 people, still sit in churches that regularly condemn the LGBTQ community.
And as I read the headlines, as I see the pictures of the victims, I realize that while I grieve the lives lost in senseless violence, right now, more than anything, I am angry.
I am angry because 49 people lost their lives in a place that they considered a safe haven from the hate and bigotry.
I am angry because those who endorse anti-LGBTQ legislation are tweeting that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families.
I am angry because a homophobic hate crime is being used to attack Muslims.
I am angry because so many people still view and treat the LGBTQ community as second class citizens at best, and sub-human at worst.
I am angry because of the people who tell me that there are more urgent problems to be addressed or that we should agree to disagree with those who condemn homosexuality.
I am angry because of the number of times I have had to explain that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality, or remind Christians that the second greatest commandment (the first being love God) is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I am angry because of the number of times I have not said anything in the face of blatant homophobia, because I was afraid.
I am angry because someone who taught and demonstrated radical love and acceptance is used to promote hate and discrimination.
I am angry because this is 2016, and we should know better by now.
And I am not ashamed of that anger. When 49 people are murdered in a hate crime, we should be angry. That anger is the result of love and compassion for people who are the victims of injustice. But we need to use that anger in the right way. Rather than letting it fade away until the next act of violence comes, or letting it drive us to hatred and revenge, we need to use it to bring about change. When enough people see injustice and violence, when enough people get angry and say this is wrong, that is where change begins. The LGBTQ community has won many significant battles in recent years, but this shooting shows us that we still have a long way to go.
After the Charleston shooting, Obama said that our thoughts and prayers are not enough. There is a time for mourning. We mourn for the lives lost, we offer our prayers for the victims and families. But when the time of mourning is over, we act. We must stand up and say we will not tolerate bigotry and discrimination at a personal, corporate, state, or federal level. We must say no more.
This is not the fight of the LGBTQ community. This is the fight of every single person who believes that every human being has worth, that every human being has rights. We mourn and pray now, but when the time of mourning is over, Allies, stand with the LGBTQ community, and say no more.