On June 15 the Republicans blocked the passage of an amendment in the House of Representatives barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus Republicans demonstrate that not the most atrocious hate crimes may change their continuous struggle to ensure that LGBT Americans should not be protection against discrimination and hate crime laws. This not just tragic and but heinous, as the massacre against gay bar in Orlando cannot be viewed independently of the homophobia and transphobia that for years have been promoted by the Republican Party.
Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass murderer, hated gays, perhaps because he had some of those feelings herself. This hatred seems to have been the motivation to carry out the mass murder of gay bar Pulse Club. But his hate is by no means unique and is found among social conservatives, not least among religious fundamentalists, all over the world. But that Mateen was Muslim cannot by itself explain his homophobia as such, for, as all religions, Islam reflects both tolerance and intolerances towards LGBT people, although the tolerance is usually more subdued. Mateen himself nevertheless expressed his loyalty to Daesh/ISIS and other radical Islamists, where homophobia is extreme. At the same time, Mateen was as much American as Muslim, born and raised in a society where half of all leading politicians consider that it is completely all right to discriminate against LGBT people.
The Republican Party has long time promoted a fundamental discrimination against LGBT people. While hate crimes annually affects thousands of US gays and lesbians and increasing numbers of transgender people, the solid majority of Republicans do what they can to ensure that LGBT people should not be protected by laws against neither hate crimes nor discrimination. On the contrary many actually encourage people to discriminate against gays and transgender people, based on their religious convictions. Several states where Republicans are in power, are trying to outdo each other with various anti-LGBT legislation. Various Christian organizations, which are defined as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to how they systematically advocate against the most basic human rights of LGBT people, find great support among leading Republicans.
Most of this year’s Republican presidential candidates acted as if they were in a competition to be the most anti-gay. Not least did they defend the gay hostile human right to discriminate in all parts of society. After SCOTUS approved same-sex marriage across the US, it has become mainstream among Republicans to undermine the entire American judicial system. Even a Christian hate preacher like Kevin Swanson, who supports the death penalty for homosexuality, was hailed by the candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal. Although not among the most anti-gay, Donald Trump with his post-Orlando claim to be more pro-gay than Hillary Clinton rings completely hollow, as he says nothing against how the rest of the GOP continues their legislative hate feast, as he continues to fight against same-sex marriage, and still stands by his wish list of mostly strongly anti-LGBT candidates for the Supreme Court.
Not all Republicans are equally adamant in their fight for LGBT discrimination. But those who do not spew homophobia are of the opinion that it is perfectly legitimate to advocate such systematic discrimination of a minority population.
The systematic designation of gays and transgender people as scapegoats and as someone, who by their very existence, are destructive to society, make these people particularly vulnerable when someone – like Omar Mateen – wants to express their hatred against people one does not like. Most of all the GOP, through its consistent policy, tries to make LGBT people refrain from living out their lives as they wish, but rather hate themselves – something that may exactly have been the case with Mateen.
Just as the horrendous violence against African Americans in the time of segregation cannot be seen independently from the racist legislation, one cannot see the homophobia and transphobia of today’s USA separately from the anti-LBGT equivalent to the Jim Crow laws continuously pushed by the GOP.
Fully aware of the hate they spread in society, the reaction of leading Republicans to the Orlando mass murder was cynical and predictable. In order to absolve their own complicity, it is vital to ignore the LGBT aspect of the crime. Instead, they generally present this solely as just another chapter in the radical Islamist struggle against the United States in general, like Donald Trump whose initial reaction to the massacre was to tweet congratulations to himself over his own anti-Islamic policies. Given how Islamism has become the new absolute enemy in the worldview of many Republicans, some Republicans have nevertheless condemned the most violent aspects of extreme Islamist homophobia – but then of course completely without any willingness to see how these attitudes are mirrored in the Christian based American gay hatred, or any willingness to alter their own anti-LGBT policies. The point becomes, instead, that one can just keep on discriminating against LGBT people in the US, as it will never be as bad as what the most extreme Islamists advocate.
The massacre in Orlando is about terrorism and Islamist homophobia. But it can equally be considered the latest and most tragic chapter in the US Culture War, where the aim of the GOP led front has long been to make LGBT people the legal targets of persecution and discrimination.
Dag Øistein Endsjø is a Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway.