A community vigil in Minneapolis mourning the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Photo by Fibonacci Blue (Creative Commons)
Last night, millions of people came together at vigils around the country and the world to share in collective grief, mourning the victims of the Orlando attack. Yet again, QPOC and LGBTQ people have been targeted for violence. Yet again, politicians’ lax attitudes toward guns have made tragedy possible. At vigils from New York to New Zealand, people gathered to express sadness, rage, and support.
At the vigil that filled an entire city block in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday night, community organizer Scott Seibert told the crowd something crucial, “Out of sadness can come action… commit to doing something today to make the world a better place.”
Our grief and anger will turn into action. Times like these—when people are full of fear—are when we mobilize. But that can be exploited. Politicians know that in the wake of a disaster, people are more willing to go along with laws and fear-based ideas that would have seemed unimaginable in a time of peace and quiet.
Already, Donald Trump has jumped at the chance to turn channel Americans’ reactions toward bigotry. At a press conference Sunday night, Trump repeated his call to ban Muslims from being able to immigrate to the United States. This demand is not only extremely cruel, it is calculated: Trump knows that Islamophobia resonates with many voters who’ve been primed for years by both media and politicians to see Islam as un-American.
We can’t let people like Trump define the actions we take in response to this tragedy. We can’t let these horrific deaths be used to usher in more Islamophobia, more surveillance of people of color, and more fear of immigrants. There are many things we can and should do to prevent future violence—supporting hateful laws is not one of them.
Here are actions we can take as individuals and as a society:
A vigil outside the White House yesterday. Photo by Victoria Pickering (Creative Commons).
Demand gun control. We have a tendency to see each mass shooting as a singular event—a freak occurrence perpetrated by a fringe individual. But it’s crucial that we recognize that violence against marginalized communities as a pattern that’s always been present in American history. The people who are kept out of power in our society—women, people of color, and LGBTQ people—are also disproportionately likely to be the victims of violence, from historic massacres like the 1923 murders in Rosewood, Florida and racist mob violence around the country to the epidemic rates of domestic violence today. After every mass shooting, Republicans in the Congress and Senate express regret and “send prayers” to the victims. But over and over, they have blocked even basic gun control legislation that would help prevent murder. Instead, they take their cues from the NRA—which spends millions in federal lobbying every year. This morning, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the first piece of gun control legislation directly in response to the Orlando shooting: a bill that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing a gun. Wherever you live, call or write to your elected officials and tell them you want common sense gun control laws—now. You can also support groups working for national gun control policies, like the Brady Campaign, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Lit candles at a vigil for Orlando victims in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by US Embassy (Creative Commons)
Raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ violence and work to end homophobia. This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. Violence against LGBTQ people is all too common in the United States, but rarely makes the news. As Mic reports, more than 250,000 Americans above age 12 were victims of hate crimes from 2007 to 2011—about 18 percent of those victims were targeted because of their perceived sexual orientation. But only a third of all hate crimes are ever reported to law enforcement, in part because LGBTQ people are worried they’ll be re-victimized by the police and court systems or reporting the incident won’t lead to justice in any way. If you’re straight and cisgender, know that LGBTQ people can’t take safety for granted. Support groups and policies that work to end anti-LGBTQ violence, including anti-bullying measures.
A chalked message at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus. Photo by Rose Fire Rising (Creative Commons).
Call out Islamophobia. It’s no surprise that discriminatory anti-Muslim rhetoric resonates in our culture. Our movies and TV shows almost universally portray Muslims as violent, untrustworthy, or repressed. Our police and elected officials rampantly spy on and harass Muslim Americans, giving the impression that Muslim communities are inherently suspicious. Our news media paints Omar Mateen as an “Islamic radical” instead of a “radical American homophobe with a history of domestic abuse, who likely found some fertile ground for his American homophobia, misogyny and abusiveness in Isis propaganda.” It’s crucial to push back against those ideas, to recognize there are people of all religions who commit acts of violence and to affirm that millions and millions of Muslims around the world desire peace and equality.
A poignant sign at the vigil in Portland, Oregon last night. Photo by Sarah Mirk (Creative Commons)
Support LGBTQ youth. Such a high-profile act of violence at a gay nightclub undoubtedly harms young people who are wondering whether they should come out as visibly queer. It would be horrible if this shooting keeps a generation of young people in the closet. There are many great groups working specifically with young LGBTQ people to let them know they’re loved and supported—donate time and money to them, if you can. If you want to help pitch in to support Orlando youth specifically, you can donate to the Zebra Coalition, a network of groups that provide support to queer youth in Orlando.
Coming together at the vigil in Wellington last night. Photo by US Embassy (Creative Commons)
Tell friends and family you love them. Hamilton co-writer Lin Manuel Miranda’s Tony award acceptance speech this weekend is a beautiful example of responding to this weekend’s violence in a way that brings people together—instead of driving us further apart. At the awards show on Sunday, he read a sonnet that reaffirmed the power of love. “The show is proof that history remembers,” he said. “We live in times when hate and fear seem stronger. We rise and fall in light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer.”
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Bitch Media staffers Britt Ashley and Dahlia Grossman-Heinze contributed to this article.