This was going to be another column about Vancouver’s affordability crisis, but that will have to wait. Early Sunday morning, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place in Orlando, Florida, leaving over 50 dead and many more injured.
The location of this massacre was Pulse, a popular gay nightclub. The target was the gay community. A hate crime, an act of terror. The shooter has been identified as an Afghan-American, born in New York. According to The Washington Post, his ex-wife reports that he “was not very religious,” and that he was a violent misogynist who beat her routinely. Regardless of this murderer’s motivations, there will now be ubiquitous efforts to use his hate crime to demonize all Muslims in the United States. The same right-wing politicians who have demonized, scapegoated, and institutionally discriminated against LGBT people in the United States will now use this mass killing to demonize, scapegoate and discriminate against Muslims. Homophobes will weaponize this murder of gay people in the service of Islamophobia.
Our response to this reactionary carnival of hate must be more solidarity and love than ever. The shooting happened in the United States, but this solidarity needs to take place worldwide because anti-gay violence is a global and persistent phenomenon. There has been immense progress made in recent decades, but the hatreds of the past still linger. So it’s worth remembering our recent history, and reflecting on how men in particular have been, and still are to varying extents, socialized in a toxic masculinity steeped in homophobic and misogynist prejudices.
Growing up in the 1980s, the default taunts were anti-gay slurs. In the socialization of boys, violence was inextricably linked to homophobia. Boys fought because another boy called them gay; boys fought to ‘prove they weren’t gay.’ The toxic masculinity we were immersed in on the schoolyards and in the hockey rinks was a product of homophobia and hatred in society. Until very recently, this violence and hatred had the backing of the state; in Canada, homophobia was codified in law.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was a crime to be gay in this country. In the 1960s, Everett Klippert was imprisoned as a “dangerous offender” for admitting to homosexuality. It was only in 1969, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, that Canada finally began to decriminalize LGBT people. Until the late 1970s, immigrants could be barred entry to Canada if they admitted they were gay. In 1988, less than 30 years ago, NDP MP Svend Robinson came out, becoming the first openly gay member of parliament in Canada. Robinson fought throughout the 1980s to introduce anti-discrimination legislation, and throughout the 1990s he led an often lonely campaign to introduce equal marriage rights for LGBT Canadians.
It was only this month that, for the first time ever, the Canadian government officially celebrated Pride Month by raising the pride flag on Parliament Hill.
Despite all the hard-fought progress, hate crimes and anti-gay violence are not just relics of the distant past in Vancouver or in Canada. In 2001, Aaron Webster, a gay man, was savagely beaten to death in Stanley Park. LGBT communities remain the targets of violent hate crimes here in Vancouver, despite the fact we’re a city where the mainstream political consensus defends equality and LGBT rights.
On Sunday morning, Mayor Gregor Robertson wasted no time offering words of solidarity on social media: “Mourning the horrific Orlando shooting. Vancouver’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families, LGBTQ community and people of Orlando.” Vancouver’s Pride Society immediately organized a vigil for Sunday night at the Art Gallery. This summer’s Pride Parade and Festival, which draws hundreds of thousands to downtown Vancouver, will no doubt take on added significance.
Our response to the despicable crime in Orlando must be to redouble our vigilance and solidarity. The fight against homophobia and hateful violence knows no borders.