One year after the Supreme Court ruled that gays can legally marry across the country, and at a time when most polls show a majority of Americans support LGBT equality, the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., shocked many Americans who had begun to take gay rights for granted.
Not only did the shootings at the Pulse nightclub occur during Pride month, when LGBT people and supporters across the U.S. celebrate the gains they have made toward equality, they also took place at a gay club — historically a safe gathering place for LGBT people, especially back when no other establishments would welcome them.
Suspected gunman Omar Mateen, 29, was armed with an assault-type weapon and a handgun when he opened fire at the Pulse nightclub, killing 50 people. Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police, was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported that Mateen called 911 shortly before the attacks and pledged allegiance to ISIS.
But Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, said his son was not driven by religious ideology. Instead, he said, Mateen seemed upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago.
If there was one message in the massacre, it seemed to be that LBGT people are still not safe, and that religious teachings — or at least a narrow reading of them — may be a contributing factor to hatred against gays.
Religious leaders from Pope Francis to the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sharply condemned the shooting.
The Vatican’s spokesperson, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Pope Francis shares in the victims’ “indescribable suffering” and “he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort.”
Muslim groups also condemned the killings.
“The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence,” read a statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The Florida chapter also called on the Muslim community to take part in a blood drive for those wounded in the attack.
But such words from religious groups provided cold comfort to many gay activists.
“There’s such a cognitive dissonance for me when public officials ask us to pray when the majority of world religions promote anti-LGBT theology,” said Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, an organization that attempts to end the harm to LBGT youths it says is caused by religious teachings.
“This isn’t isolated to Muslim beliefs. It’s seen in Christianity and it’s just as deadly,” added Cruz, a former RNS columnist.
Just last month in Congress, Rep. Rick W. Allen, from Georgia’s 12th District, led a Republican policy group’s opening prayer by reading Bible passages that condemn homosexuality and those “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
Allen read from Romans 1:28-32, which says: “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. … Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them..”
A handful of biblical passages condemn homosexuality. These include perhaps the most oft repeated: “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense” (Leviticus 20:13).
Likewise, the Quran condemns homosexuality and recommends stoning as a form of punishment:
“For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds. … And we rained down on them a shower [of brimstone]” (Quran 7:80-84).
But for many modern readers of Scripture, such passages are meant to be read in the context of the time and should not be taken literally.
LGBT groups across the nation sprang into action June 12. Equality Florida, the state’s LGBT civil rights organization, began collecting contributions via this GoFundMe page to support the victims of the shooting.
A host of demonstrations and vigils were being planned across the country, including at Stonewall, the historic Greenwich Village gay inn where riots broke out in 1969 in response to police raids.
More than 400,000 people were expected to line Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood on June 12 for the 46th annual LA Pride Parade. Organizers announced that the celebration would begin with a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting.
One of the owners of Orlando’s Pulse club, Barbara Poma, started the establishment to promote awareness of the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Her brother died from AIDS, USA Today reported.
Poma opened Pulse on Orange Avenue with friend and co-founder Ron Legler in 2004.
“It was important to create an atmosphere that embraced the gay lifestyle with décor that would make John proud,” Poma wrote on the club’s website. “Most importantly, [we] coined the name Pulse for John’s heartbeat — as a club that is John’s inspiration, where he is kept alive in the eyes of his friends and family.”
President Obama, speaking from the White House, reached out to LGBT Americans:
“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Obama said, noting that the place where the attack took place “is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.”