What You Need to Know About the Orlando Massacre, the Latinx LGBTQ Community and Islamophobia

By Kenrya Rankin Jun 13, 2016

At just after 2 a.m. on June 12, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire at a gay club in Orlando, killing 49 people before police fatally shot him. Fifty-three additional people were injured in the attack. The massacre at Pulse Orlando now sits atop the list of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

The shooting happened during Pulse’s weekly “Upscale Latin Saturdays” party, and the victims are primarily Latinx. As USA Today reports, the club was created as a safe space for the local LGBTQ community, complete with monthly educational events. The owner, Barbara Poma, opened it in 2004 as a tribute to her brother, John, who died from AIDS in 1991.

According to the Orlando Police Department, Mateen started a gun fight near the front door with an officer who was working at the club and responded to the initial gunshots. Mateen then retreated farther inside the club where he continued to shoot, then took partygoers hostage, claiming to have a bomb while talking to negotiators. Three hours later, officers used explosives and an armored vehicle to blast a hole in a wall and rescued 30 hostages. All but one of the victims have been identified, and the city is working to notify families. The Huffington Post has photos and personal narratives for several of the people who died in the shooting.

NPR reports that 29-year-old Mateen—a U.S. citizen whose parents are from Afghanistan—had been interviewed by FBI officials in the past for possible terrorist ties. He reportedly made a 911 call before the shooting during which he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) say Mateen purchased the guns—“.223 caliber AR type rifle and 9mm semiautomatic pistol”—legally.

The shooting sparked the hashtag #OrlandoUnited, but not before it inspired many to fall back on Islamophobic and xenophobic speech. The loudest voice was that of Donald Trump, the Republican party’s presumptive nominee for president. In a statement posted to his campaign site, he tied Mateen’s crime to the immigration of Muslims to the United States:

The terrorist, Omar Mir Saddique [sic] Mateen, is the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan who openly published his support for the Afghanistani Taliban and even tried to run for President of Afghanistan. According to Pew, 99 percent of people in Afghanistan support oppressive Sharia Law. We admit more than 100,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States. Hillary Clinton wants to dramatically increase admissions from the Middle East, bringing in many hundreds of thousands during a first term—and we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.

Here is what some of the relevant groups and leaders are saying—and doing—in response to the mass murder:

The City of Orlando:
The City of Orlando is currently working through identifying and contacting victims’ families. As we go through this process we have received a massive outpouring of support and invitations for help. We appreciate all offers and are trying to find the best way to involve our community in the days of recovery. If you are interested in assisting the city, through volunteering, donations, etc. please fill out the following form.

Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida:
As the details are sorted out and the facts emerge in the next hours, days and weeks, we must remain united, strong and resilient. Whether last night’s victims were targeted because they were LGBT, because they were American, Latino or because they were simply all in one common space, the results of this horrible attack are equally devastating and without explanation or justification. Our hearts are with the victims, their families and Orlando’s LGBT community. This a terrible tragedy for LGBT people in Orlando and nationwide, especially as our community celebrates LGBT Pride Month.

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement:
We send strength and love to the families and friends of the victims of the #PulseOrlando shooting. Do not let the media erase the fact that last night was gay Latinx night at Pulse. We demand safety in our streets, our schools, homes, places of worship, at work and at gay clubs. Such attacks stem from the hate and violence the state and politicians like Trump continue to spew on our communities. As we continue with pride celebrations across the country we cannot forget the 50 lives we lost last night. What happened in Orlando last night is a tragic reminder that the fight for liberation for all of our LGBTQ communities is far from over. We must commit to fighting all types of violence that continue to kill, incarcerate and deport our communities in the United States and all over the world. Sending much love to trans and queer people here and across all borders.

Equality Florida (via the GoFundMe page it set up to support the victims):
We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country. Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument. We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.

Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven:
We don’t need to ask whether LGBT people were the targets of the terrible attack in Orlando. We know. This was both an act of terrorism against LGBT people and also a hate crime. I felt sick as I read that the shooter had been “angered” by seeing men kissing. Sick that our love and our lives and our pride could be an excuse for murder. Sick that a Presidential candidate encourages violent response to disagreement. Sick that intolerance—unchecked—means that even a night out dancing with friends can end in gunfire…. This is Pride month, and this year it is also Ramadan—the holiest time in the Muslim year. Lambda Legal has already received expressions of condolence and solidarity from Muslim leaders. LGBT people are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, every other faith as well as none. No true religion calls for harm to others, and Islam is no exception. Religion is no excuse for violence, and it is no excuse for bigotry and discrimination…. Until all LGBT people are accepted fully wherever they live, we will never have real safety and security. Lambda Legal will continue to fight for our communities and protect ourselves. Together we will succeed.

Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD):
MASGD today joins peace-loving people everywhere in grieving this senseless loss of life that is a reminder of the violence that LGBTQ people continue to experience, despite many recent legal gains for our communities. It is also not lost on us that this horrific tragedy occurred during LGBTQ Pride month, which this year coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically a period of peace and intense self-reflection. It pains us to see that these periods of joy, celebration, and peace have been marred so violently with such horror. This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of LGBTQ identities and Islam. At moments like this, we are doubly affected. We reject attempts to perpetuate hatred against our LGBTQ communities as well as our Muslim communities. We ask all Americans to resist the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Let us remember that the actions of a single individual cannot speak for all Muslims.

President Barack Obama:
Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people…. We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups…. Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

Pulse Orlando owner, Barbara Poma:
Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC):
Violence of this magnitude belongs to no religious, racial or ethnic group. ADC has always stood, and will continue to stand, against discrimination and hate crimes against all communities, including the LGBTQ community. We have worked regularly with the LGBTQ community, as they have been on the forefront of helping combat Islamophobia and Anti-Arab sentiment. Tolerance and acceptance must be shown to all individuals, regardless of their race, sex, religion and sexual orientation. We will continue working with all communities, including the LGBTQ community, to combat the hate and discrimination that impacts us all.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch:
The Department of Justice, including the FBI, the ATF, the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, is fully supporting the ongoing investigation. The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service has been in contact with local authorities, community leaders and local working groups to offer any assistance as needed. Additionally, I will no longer participate in the U.S.-China Cyber Ministerial in Beijing and will travel back to Washington immediately to continue monitoring the developments.

Senator Richard Burr, Select Committee on Intelligence chair:
Law enforcement authorities are investigating the attack as a terrorist incident, and we should allow the investigation to unfold. I am confident the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its law enforcement partners will be able to present a full picture of the suspect, his motives or inspiration and his background.

Islamic State (ISIS) (via Amaq News Agency, as reported by Reuters):
The armed attack that targeted a gay night club in the city of Orlando in the American state of Florida which left over 100 people dead or injured was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.