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Chester County Press

Editorial: Banning the assault weaponry of homophobia

06/14/2016 11:57AM ● By Richard Gaw

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
                                                                                                                      Leviticus 20:13

In the early hours of June 12, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and opened fire, killing 49 people and wounding 53. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Almost immediately, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – commonly known as ISIS – claimed responsibility for the attack, called Mateen “one of the soldiers of the Caliphate in America,” and claimed that the shooter's affiliation with the Islamic State “enabled him to inflict heavy casualties amongst the filthy Crusaders.”
Officials are still investigating the exact motives for the shooting, and both ties to radical Islam as well as a general hate crime motivation are being considered. In the past, ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks that did not originate within their command structure or territory, and analysts say this latest claim still does not prove ISIS was directly involved in the shooting. Mateen’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State 20 minutes into the slaughter brought to horrific public attention what had largely been absent from Islamist-inspired attacks in the West: Radical Islam’s visceral hatred for gays.
So we begin the spin cycle once again, just like we did in the aftermath of Oregon and Colorado and Blacksburg and Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. In the coming weeks, every news channel will open up roundtable discussions on whether now is the time to ban assault weapons in the United States. Social media will erupt with the voices of regular Americans calling for the death – or at least massive rewrite – of the Second Amendment. Politicians whose purse strings are directly connected to the NRA will offer the families of the victims their thoughts and prayers, while well-paid NRA lackeys will trot out their tired old workhorse and claim that “Guns don't kill people. People kill people.”
Three months will go by – six months, perhaps – and the discussion of what happened in Orlando will be resigned to the dustbin of the American Conversation, only to resurface when the next mass shooting occurs. But the truth is that our voices are about to begin the wrong conversation. The truth is that Mateen did not pull the trigger of his AR-15 assault rifle because of any overt subservience to Islamic fundamentalism. He pulled that trigger for no other reason than because of his hatred of homosexuals. He saw two men kissing, and he did not like it, so he wiped out an entire nightclub. It was Pride Month, a time when cities across the country host celebrations and parades.
Hate violence toward the LGBT community has soared in recent years. From 2010 to 2011, hate crimes against gays increased 13 percent in New York City. In 2011, the National Coalition reported the highest number of LGBT bias-related homicides in its 15-year history. In 2014, a majority of Americans believed that gay sex is morally unacceptable. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate crime than Jews or black people, and are more than four times as likely as Muslims to be the victims of hate crimes.
Hate crimes against the LGBT community have no boundaries, and to believe that these same crimes have not been perpetrated upon residents of Chester County is glaringly ignorant. As documented in this issue of the Chester County Press, a same-sex couple in Avondale was the victim of a hate crime last year, when they came home to find that a homophobic slur had been painted on their garage doors.
As part of a “No Gay Thursday” weekly hazing ritual, three senior athletes at Conestoga High School were accused recently of assaulting a 14-year-old victim, who was held down by two athletes while another teammate positioned a broom handle in the boy’s rectum.
Perhaps the worst violation against the LGBT community in Chester County – and Pennsylvania – is not being done with spray paint and sexual crimes, but through the lack of legislation. Pennsylvania was the final Mid Atlantic state in the country to allow same-sex marriage, until it overturned its statutory ban on May 20, 2014.
Although it passed a hate crime law protecting the LGBT community in 2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck it down in 2008 on a technicality: Legislators inserted the language into an unrelated bill on agricultural terrorism, changing that bill's purpose during the legislative process, which violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. It is now 2016, and the law still has not been passed.
The vast majority of those crimes are not being carried out by Muslim extremists or organized hate groups, but by those who are otherwise considered normal members of our society. Very often, it is these otherwise upstanding people whose anti-gay beliefs have been cultivated, manifested and heightened by their religious beliefs. Literal interpretations of such biblical passages as Leviticus 20:13, quoted above, have only supported their ideals.
A few years ago, the Public Religion Research Institute came up with a figure that said that 14 percent of Americans believed that AIDS was God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior. In response to the Orlando shootings, Pastor Stephen L. Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., told his congregation that Mateen was simply following the Bible.
“... They should have been killed through the proper channels … by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed,” Anderson said.
We may never know for certain what led Mateen to commit the murders of 49 people last Sunday morning, but it is time for Americans who wish to put an end to the ridicule, dismissal and violence against the LGBT community to begin their own conversations -- and to begin them in the face of closed doors that lead to places of worship and schools and legislative halls and living rooms. Perhaps there is no way to force these doors wide open and keep them that way, but on the morning after the tragedy, more than 600 people lined up outside of Orlando hospitals.
They were there to give up some of their blood, in order for others to continue to live.