Politicizing Tragedy | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Politicizing Tragedy

The nation woke up Sunday to a horrific shock—the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history—that at least for now appears to be part terror, part hate crime. Most politicians acknowledged in their condolences that from what we know, while the slaughter was obviously a domestic terrorist "lone-wolf" attack, it could also easily be considered a hate crime. President Obama called it "an act of terror and an act of hate."

On Monday, the Associated Press said the shooter's motivation was still a "murky combination" of possible motives, with explanations ranging from "his ex-wife saying he suffered from mental illness and his Afghan-immigrant father suggesting he may have acted out of anti-gay hatred" to a possible connection with Islamic extremist groups.

Pulse is a gay nightclub, and June is Pride Month. To ignore the fact that the shooter targeted the LGBT community is missing half of the picture. And still, Mississippi politicians seemed to miss this completely, acknowledging the terror and not the homophobia behind the attack. They instead used it as an opportunity to step up anti-terror defenses and commend law enforcement.

In a statement on Facebook, Gov. Phil Bryant said, "Please join Deborah and me in praying for God's peace and comfort for those affected by the horrific act of terror in Orlando." He went on to say he was moving state assets to "concentrated areas of people" and asked everyone to be on alert "to any suspicious activity." "Remember, if you see something, say something," an attached graphic read.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann echoed the governor in a statement Monday, saying, "We are deeply saddened over the terrorist attack in Orlando. Any attack on any citizen is an attack on us all. This doubles our resolve to defeat hatred and those who would destroy our form of government." His statement went on to commend law enforcement officials for their service.

It's not that these statements are bad or wrong, but they are certainly incomplete. The first communities to organize and hold vigils were the LGBT communities. In a state that has not been kind in recent months, Jackson's LGBT community drew more than 100 people to a vigil Sunday at 6 p.m., a show of solidarity between those who identify as LGBT and their allies in the nation's capital. In a state that has legislated hatred toward them, Orlando must seem like another threat, and at least a reminder that it is still not safe to be LGBT in this nation, let alone this state that rejects them.

The least the state's leadership could have done is acknowledge the existence of Mississippi's LGBT community, acknowledge how their pain was tenfold on Sunday, acknowledge the fear that likely jolted through each of them to know that even a place like a gay bar, a safe space and sanctuary, could be exploited for hatred and become the scene of America's worst modern mass shooting.

Of course, for state leaders to acknowledge the LGBT community would mean acknowledging the backwardness of their thinking. The part of the religious right that endorses anti-LGBT legislation and signs bills like HB 1523 would have to admit to contributing to a climate of fear, not inclusion.

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