The massacre of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando—a hate crime—has once again thrust debates about the reach of Islamic extremism and gun control into the public consciousness. Mass murders, especially ones executed by a wife-beating, jihadism-inspired executioner wielding an AR-15, tend to do that. A discursive spark, both in Congress and along Main Streets in America about who should be able to buy guns here, and which types of weapons they can buy, along with working to understand and protect innocent people from future rampages, is a good thing.
But let’s make no mistake about it: Gay people were the target of Omar Mateen’s brutality. Therefore, our conversations must go further than gun control and nation protecting. Ideally, they will cast bright shining lights onto the LGBT community—you know, the people in your family, your friends, your neighbors, or that woman on TV that makes you laugh—who still, despite their status as human beings and American citizens, are not afforded equal rights and protections under law.
In short, the national conversation should inspire policy changes that will afford permanent rights and protections for the LGBT community. But this effort continues to be a struggle, slogged down by some of the very people we elect, who continue to stink up the joint.
On Tuesday, just a few days after the Pulse shooting, The Hill reported that “House GOP leaders won’t allow a vote this week on a proposal to ensure that federal contractors can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The amendment, proposed by New York Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who is gay, has twice before been “quashed” by Republicans. Said Maloney: “It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive. But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area. Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”
Pretty basic indeed. Like basic human rights.
Most recently, North Carolina passed a law that requires people to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth, which discriminates against transgender people. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in 1994, and every subsequent year since then, but it has yet to be passed. In 2013, it passed easily the in the Senate, but died in the House. (Here, also, is a good source on the history of anti-LGBT laws.)
Would gay rights have prevented the Orlando shooting from happening? No. But as we say our prayers and dedicate our thoughts to the 49 victims at Pulse who were killed, let’s think about the millions of gay people are living without civil rights today. Don’t mourn, organize!
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.