On Sunday, police arrested a man by the name of James Wesley Howell as he was on his way to the Los Angeles Pride festival in West Hollywood. In his car were three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, a stockpile of ammunition, and the ingredients necessary to make an explosive device. Police have corrected an initial report that he intended “to harm” the pride event and now say his intentions were unclear, but his destination was not.
Howell is white, and he’s from Indiana.
The day after the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, conservatives known for their anti-LGBT rhetoric are now clamoring to blame ISIS and radical Islam for the deaths in Orlando:
- Donald Trump not only lashed out at radical Islam, but even suggested that the LGBT community will apply “political pressure” to retaliate.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement, “Enough is enough. What we need is for every American — Democrat and Republican — to come together, abandon political correctness, and unite in defeating radical Islamic terrorism.”
- Outlets like the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal and The Federalist have already run headlines such as, “Where Does The Hate Come From?”, “The Orlando Terrorist Attack Is The Price We Pay For Not Destroying ISIS,” and “The Orlando Attack Is What Actual Homophobia Looks Like.”
Radical Islam inspired the shooting, the argument goes, and so radical Islam deserves 100 percent of any blame or outrage that follows. The people making this argument are the same people who regularly speak out against LGBT equality — who support discrimination against same-sex couples in the name of “religious liberty” and who demonize transgender people as mentally ill. Now, they are nothing but sympathetic to the LGBT community — if they acknowledge it at all — and quick to disregard the anti-LGBT sentiment that is ubiquitous in the United States quite independent of any influence from Islam.
The same obfuscation took place after a shooter attacked on a Colorado Planned Parenthood last year. Robert Lewis Dear was clearly motivated by his Christian anti-abortion beliefs, but conservatives similarly likewise tried to avoid taking responsibility for propagating those notions.
Because of the scope of the Orlando shooting, it’s easy to set it apart from just about anything. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t consistent with violence and abuse that LGBT people experience as a norm in this country. There were a record number of documented transgender murders in 2015–21 — and this year is catching up, with at least 12 already documented in 2016. LGBT people experience plenty more non-fatal violence, much of which is not accurately documented as anti-LGBT violence. Had he not been arrested, Howell may very well have contributed to both statistics.
Furthermore, LGBT people in the United States experience a significant amount of mental and emotional violence. A stat that can never be repeated enough is that 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. The massive study that found that result also found that those who had attempted suicide were more likely to have experienced discrimination and family rejection. Anti-LGBT bullying has been found to contribute to long-term mental health consequences, including suicidal ideation.
An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT. Family rejection is largely to blame for these kids being left to fend for themselves on the street. They either run away to escape rejection or abuse or they are simply forced out by their parents. (Conversely, family acceptance has the biggest impact on ensuring positive outcomes for LGBT youth.)
ISIS may sensationalize anti-gay violence — specifically to spark the anti-Islam sentiment that fuels it — but that doesn’t actually make radical Islam more violent against LGBT people than the conservative Christian sentiment that permeates the U.S. If Howell had any plans for violence at L.A. pride, it seems unlikely ISIS inspired him. But more importantly, if LGBT people end up dead, it doesn’t matter if they were executed or so abused that they saw no future for themselves.
The Orlando shooting is not an opportunity to absolve conservatives who have railed against LGBT equality for years. If they truly care about the fate of LGBT people, they have a responsibility to account for their own contributions to discrimination and stigma. Scapegoating Islam is nothing more than a distraction from having a real conversation about the actual experience of LGBT people when they aren’t being massacred in the sanctuary of a nightclub.