Forty-nine queer and trans folks, mostly of color were killed on Latin Night at the Pulse Club in Orlando on June 12, with many more injured.
When media sources insisted on calling the murderer, Omar Mateen, a Muslim, I had no doubt that he was not part of Islam. If you do not know, we are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, a month of fasting and reflection, based on charity and love. Islam is a religion centered in social justice, feminism, and nonviolence. Therefore, Omar Mateen could not have been a Muslim. In fact, Muslims around the world have denounced him because nothing about his actions was Islamic. Furthermore his family and ex-wife stated that he was not religious and therefore not religiously motivated. Mateen is a classic example of the hyper-masculine, violent, and homophobic epidemic of America.
But Orlando is not about the violent murderer, it is about those who were on the receiving end of his hate. I want to emphasize that media sources have avoided mentioning that it was Latin Night at Pulse. It is important to acknowledge and name that those who died were largely people of color who were queer and trans. Race has been at the intersection of oppression far too long to not acknowledge it as part of the reason this tragedy occurred. Some of these people were not out to their family members and friends and therefore were outed by this tragedy. Lastly, we do not know what faith these folks held.
When I heard about the Orlando tragedy, I was ironically celebrating my birthday with friends and loved ones. To be honest, when the news came in, I did not register what had happened. The only thing I remember is the distress on my partner’s face. When I awoke the next day and saw the flood of news and social media posts, my heart sunk like an anchor in my rib cage. I wanted to speak and yet felt that someone had stolen my voice. The issue was that this tragedy put queer people on one side and Islam on the other side. And here I was, ever present, as a queer woman of color and Muslim.
When I went to work and attended a vigil for Orlando, I encountered anger and sadness and I became very anxious. I was grieving for the lost lives of my queer people and yet I felt afraid to out myself as Muslim. I was living in New York City on 9/11 and I remember the verbal and physical violence that Muslims endured for years due to the actions of a few. I didn’t want to experience that violence again. Adding to my anxiety is the reality that I have often felt less safe to out myself as Muslim than queer in the last few years. Additionally, spaces of social justice and activism are often silos of general experiences that leave out crucial intersectional work.
Sharing the identities I do often creates a multiplicity of situations where I am erased from conversations. As a result, I hold intersectionality very close to my being. You cannot possibly understand what happened in Orlando without looking at it from an intersectional approach. It is not useful to listen to the divisive tactics of the media that would have you believe that the victims were only queer. We know that every day queer and trans people of color are attacked and too often murdered for who they are. Orlando was by no means an exception in our country. In fact, Orlando was an example of our country’s lack of care for queer and trans folks of color.
Mateen was not an exception of terrorism in our country; he was an example of what American terrorism looks like. Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, there have been over 1000 mass shootings in this country, most of them being carried out by men with access to guns. This tragedy had nothing to do with a religion and everything to do with the climate of the U.S. and its policies in relation to whose rights they choose to protect and whom they choose to ignore. We are more focused on the political agenda of gun rights and spreading Islamophobia than protecting the lives of queer and trans people.
These last few days I have shed many tears, had a few heart palpitations, and have come very close to a panic attack. I shared the sadness and anger of queer folks, especially queer folks of color, and yet felt silenced, afraid to share my feeling of loss due to my faith. This is my way of breaking my silence and reaching out to hug those who also felt silenced by the conversation around Orlando. I know that many queer Muslims exist and have also shared my experience of erasure and desperation to say something. The beauty of being Muslim is we know how to give to others without discretion.
In the face of being outed and potentially physically harmed, many Muslims (queer and straight, trans and cis-gender) rushed to give support to Orlando in any way they could. As a queer person, seeing support from so many Muslims warms my heart because often I feel isolated in my identities. As a Muslim, I know (through trainings and workshops I hold), that outside of Muslims themselves, very few people know anything about Islam, Even more so, fewer people fathom that queer and trans Muslims exist. I work in my professional and personal life to make sure that people of underrepresented identities are given the space to speak. Furthermore, I help people explore their ignorance and replace it with useful knowledge of our diverse world.
As I look forward, I dream of a society where all people can be safe in their bodies regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or religion. For us who hold the difficult intersections of life as our realities, we are here and we do not apologize for who we are and how we present ourselves. Violence will not stop us from being our authentic selves. For the survivors from the Orlando tragedy, know that we support and stand with you.