Tragic mass shooting at gay nightclub in Orlando warrants official response

Troy Stevenson of Freedom Oklahoma, center. Photo by Sara Ritsch.

​by Sara Ritsch
Staff Writer

You will remember this day.

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 2016 there was mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It has been described by law enforcement as a "mass casualty event." The attack left at least 50 people dead.

This has been described as the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. To the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, this means much more than just “the worst.”

"The shooting in Orlando is absolutely tragic. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our sisters and brothers in Florida," says Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma.

“This is a difficult time for our community; however, we ask that everyone stand strong, be vigilant, and watch out for one another. We must not allow acts of violence or terrorism to intimidate us. As Oklahomans we understand as well as anyone how devastating attacks like this can be, but we cannot allow fear to define us."

Authorities are investigating this as an act of terrorism. The suspect has been identified as Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida.

According to the Associated Press, “Mir Seddique is the father of Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Seddique told NBC News that his son got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.”

However, Tom Witt, Executive Director of Equality Kansas says, "I believe many of these crimes against humanity have been provoked by the inflammatory rhetoric of conservative extremists.

"Here in Kansas, religious leaders and elected officials regularly disparage LGBT Kansans. Just last week, on the final day of the Kansas Legislature's 2016 session, Senators referred to our transgender brothers and sisters with vile insults about their mental health, high suicide rates, and use of bathrooms.

"Our community has had some big victories over the past few years. Lesbian and gay Americans can now serve openly in the US armed forces. Policies that will permit open service by transgender Americans are being developed. Marriage equality is here for everyone. Nearly every state has school bullying prevention laws, and many schools include protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. States and cities across our nation have adopted fully inclusive non-discrimination policies."

And yet, we just witnessed a mass murder at a gay nightclub in 2016. The implications of this tragedy are astounding.

President Barack Obama has described this event as an “act of terror” and an “act of hate.” He said in a statement that the American people will not give in to fear and will stand united against those who threaten the country.

Stevenson continues the conversation. “We are a community…simply existing and living an open life is an act of courage. We will not cower, we will not be afraid."

He notes that this tragedy occurred in the middle of LGBT Pride Month. “This was very clearly an attack on not just the people in that club, but on the entire LGBT community…[it was] based on the vitriol that we hear in society…it was based on the fact that people use tactics of fear and division to harm the community.”

This is not just about the LGBT community, but about humanity as a whole, Stevenson expresses.

Adam Sultani, Executive Director of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) laments the devastation, saying, “As a Muslim, our faith does not condone these actions. We condemn this. This man does not represent…7 million Muslims in America, 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.”

He points out that this occurred during not only Pride Month, but also the holy month of Ramadan. He gives the LGBT community his sincerest apology – although it is not his responsibility to give.

Mothers of Many (MOM), an organization to stop bullying in Oklahoma, says their alliance is born out of grief and loss for children who are attacked and murdered due to bigotry and hatred.

MOM makes an appeal to Oklahomans and Americans. “We are not always going to agree, sometimes we have irreconcilable differences. [But we ask that] we agree to disagree in civil ways using words that don’t hurt and a measure of respect for one another.”

There will be a candlelight vigil to honor and pay respect to the victims at 7:00 p.m. at Freedom Oklahoma, located at 4001 N. Classen Blvd in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There will also be on at Angles in OKC at 9 p.m.

Stevenson asks that the public “stand with us tonight, not hide in a closet of shame. Be allies to this community.”

He says, “We are far from true equality.”

The Gayly - 9/12/2016 @ 1:43 p.m. CDT