BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. On Thursday, President Obama met with relatives of those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last Sunday, reprising, as an LA Times headline put it, his role as comforter-in-chief after a mass shooting for the 14th time in his presidency.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and parents, and they asked, why does this keep happening? And they pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage. They don't care about the politics. Neither do I.
BOB GARFIELD: Nevertheless, soon after the news from Orlando broke, the massacre was almost entirely about politics, a vehicle for numerous agendas, with the media acting as a prism, refracting the event into competing narratives, all vying for attention.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: This person is a homophobic terrorist, whatever else he is.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: [ ? ] lawmakers are pointing to the Orlando shooting as a reason to close what they call loopholes in Californian gun laws.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: This is not a gun control issue. This is a terrorism issue.
BOB GARFIELD: Terrorism, guns, LGBT rights, fraught issues in American politics, brought together by a tragedy of unusual complexity manifest in the seemingly contradictory identity of the shooter.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Investigators believe Omar Mateen was radicalized in recent years…
MALE CORRESPONDENT: While his father says the shootings had nothing to do with religion…
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Several witnesses also say they chatted with the killer on gay dating apps like Grindr and Jack’d.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The question of how exactly Mateen related to the LGBT community has shone a bright light on one of the driving questions of the coverage: how is this massacre to be viewed? There’s a disjunction between how members of the LGBT community see it and how many in the pundit and political class do, like former Senator Scott Brown.
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS SEN. SCOTT BROWN: They were Americans first….I don’t identify the people that were murdered as from a particular class of people. I classify them as Americans, and it was an attack against all Americans…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For many in the LGBT community, the bloodshed in the club was just the latest chapter in a long history of violence targeted not at all Americans but at them. According to the FBI, LGBT people are more likely to be the targets of hate crimes than any other minority group.
Raillan Brooks, associate editor of the Village Voice, wrote about his response to Orlando as someone in a position of “double jeopardy,” a gay Muslim. Raillan, welcome to OTM.
RAILLAN BROOKS: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Sky News last Sunday night, the British Guardian columnist and advocate for LGBT rights, Owen Jones, walked off the set in protest against the presenter’s refusal to acknowledge that the Orlando attack was homophobic.
[SKY NRWS CLIP]:
OWEN JONES: It’s not some abstract kind of he just picked a random club out of nowhere. He picked a club because it was full of people he regarded as deviants. That’s why he attacked the club.
JULIA HARTLEY-BREWER: Okay, this is – can I just say, I think, I think part of the issue is, okay, this is a – it’s a hate crime, this is an act of terrorism, all accepted, it was an attack on gay people, absolutely, it was horrific. However, my, my guess is this man probably would be as horrified by me as a, as a gobby woman as, as he would - genuinely, genuinely, this is the thing, I - we don’t know right now but we can speculate, but we don’t know. We don’t how much of this…
RAILLAN BROOKS: So one of the things that was so striking was that he pointed to the presenter and said, you don't know because you're not gay. Gay history is not taught in schools, so you end up with people thinking that this is the first time a bunch of people have died because of homophobia when, in fact, there is actually a pretty deep history of it. So it becomes sort of this facile argument of, well, all lives matter. It's not just because they were gay, it's because they were American. And what's inside that word “American” is violence against LGBT people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that actually tracks very much with the argument over black lives matter and all lives matter, insofar as that people who object to all lives matter aren't objecting to the notion that everybody's life matters but that when a black person is killed in America less attention is paid.
RAILLAN BROOKS: That’s right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And in the case of LGBT people, they are the number-one murdered minority group in the country.
RAILLAN BROOKS: That's right, and 80 percent of LGBT people who are murdered are people of color.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. You also talk about liberal pink washing though.
RAILLAN BROOKS: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE] Yeah, over the last 15 or so years, the one thing that has swallowed the rest of the concerns that face the LGBT community, particularly trans rights, is marriage equality. And even before the United States v. Windsor that made it the law of the land, there was this tendency to think that it was possible that we could have a statutory remedy for homophobia which, on its face, as a gay person, seems impossible. So stuffed into a broader narrative about American exceptionalism, look at us, how well we treat our gay people, don't you want the gay people in other parts of the world to have the kind of freedom that you have here? It drapes American intervention elsewhere with a kind of moral purpose.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Particularly, would you say, in the Middle East?
RAILLAN BROOKS: Yes. I mean, if you ask a random person on the street which ISIS videos they've seen the most, it's probably the one where they're dropping gay men off the top of a roof of a building. That's the one that seems to have even made it onto prime time news. Right after Orlando, I saw a tweet from Joe Walsh who’s a – I guess a shock jock in Chicago - I personally never listen to his show but it came up in my newsfeed that he believed that all Islam wants gay people dead. And I, I responded to his tweet and said, as a gay Muslim, I would beg to differ. And the tweet went viral, and the largest group of people that responded to me were people who were saying things like, well, if you're so upset, why don't you just move back to your country where you'll be hanged or set on fire or beheaded or thrown off of a building, because we've licked that problem here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you also heard from Muslims.
RAILLAN BROOKS: Yeah. A lot of them were openly homophobic. The homophobia though had this tinge of, if you are a Muslim, it is definitionally impossible that you are gay.
In the aftermath of the shooting, there's been this eruption of queer Muslim people speaking out. I mean, when I outed myself on Twitter, my inbox exploded. And one thing that was common among the gay Muslims who reached out to me was they felt like they were really trapped in - between a rock and a hard place. They didn't know how to both mourn the dozens of people who had died in Orlando, while asserting a basic humanity of one guy and not lay his crime at the feet of all Muslims.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How does it feel to be out? Do you feel a sense of relief or foreboding?
RAILLAN BROOKS: It feels different than when I came out as gay or, when after 9/11 happened, that people would ask if I was Muslim and I had to say yes and those stares, you know, that there's something qualitatively different.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this isn’t the first time you’ve come out.
RAILLAN BROOKS: No.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did you grow up here, were you born here?
RAILLAN BROOKS: I was, yeah. I was born in Virginia. And I was living in Virginia not far from the Pentagon.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how old were you during 9/11?
RAILLAN BROOKS: I was 11 that day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did you feel uncomfortably Muslim, [LAUGHS] at that point?
RAILLAN BROOKS: I did. You know, there was a kid whose name was Osama and his parents, the day after, had his name changed to Sam. I think the threat of violence was common to both the experience of coming out as Muslim and coming out as gay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So when you came out on Twitter Sunday, what was different about that?
RAILLAN BROOKS: I was doing something political. It wasn't about self-actualizing, it was about making myself visible enough so that it would interrupt the craziness that was happening all over social media and get people to stop and think. I'm sorry it had to happen this way but one of the really beautiful things that’s come out of all of this is that queer Muslims are finding one another and we are connecting and we are talking and we are trying to figure out the way forward.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: US politicians condemn a hate crime in Orlando as foreign and anti-Western –
RAILLAN BROOKS: That’s right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - but just last year, Ted Cruz gratefully accepted the endorsement of a pastor who had just called for the execution of a gay man.
RAILLAN BROOKS: The sort of profound hypocrisy of that is really frightening. I mean, Mitt Romney gets to look good by putting out his thoughts and prayers for the people of Orlando, when he himself has said on the record that he condemns homosexuality. I mean, if you look at Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general that Anderson Cooper took to task on live TV –
ANDERSON COOPER: I saw you the other day saying that anyone who attacks the LGBT community — our LGBT community, you said - will be gone after with the full extent of the law.
FLORIDA ATTY. GEN. PAM BONDI: Exactly right.
ANDERSON COOPER: I talked to a lot of gay and lesbian people here yesterday who are, are not fans of yours and who said that they thought you were being a hypocrite, that you basically had gone after gay people, said that in court that gay people simply by fighting for marriage equality were trying to do harm to the people of Florida, to induce public harm, I believe was the term you used in court. Do you really think you’re a champion of the gay community?
RAILLAN BROOKS: Pam Bondi’s response to the tragedy is as cynical as the rest of the Republican Party’s not bringing up the fact that this was a homophobic hate crime. Even as they say, we send our thoughts and prayers out to these families, it’s sort of just another way of folding the tragedy that befell these LGBT people into an anti-terror narrative.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the focus is still on terrorism. But let me ask you about the motivations of this guy. Recently, unverified reports suggested the killer frequented the club Pulse and that he was on Grindr. You’ve seen the narrative of the killer as closeted, maybe self-hating.
RAILLAN BROOKS: Yeah. I guess I don't really know what to do with that information. I think there's lots of different ways of talking about it, one of which is that his self-hate pushed him to do all this stuff which, depending on which mouth it's coming out of, could be either sympathetic or just uses evidence for like the pathology of homosexuality. If that's the case, then it's further evidence of the way that LGBT people are thought to think of themselves, and maybe we should be thinking about what role that played in the Orlando massacre.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what did you want your column to communicate to people? You pretty much concluded, and I'll quote from your column, “What results from this noxious brew of misread history and flawed assumptions, liberal self- congratulations, LGBTQ political complacency, past and present colonial statecraft, is Orlando. People like me were massacred for who they were and people like me get blamed for it because of who they are, and neither side realizes it's being played against the other.”
RAILLAN BROOKS: I wanted people to understand that the conversation that we have afterwards about the reasons behind these shootings, the reasons themselves might actually have a deeper cause to them, that we can't just make it this facile kind of binary thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As in its either terror or it's a hate crime?
RAILLAN BROOKS: Yeah, exactly. I mean, those two things can be true at the same time, and I wanted people to understand, from my personal experience of living on both sides of that divide, that foreclosing the possibility that both of those things can't be true hurts people.
RAILLAN BROOKS: What do you wish had emerged out of this tragedy?
RAILLAN BROOKS: There have actually been examples, I think, of some things that are really important that have come out. There is a list in The New York Times of some high-profile attacks made on gay bars that very quietly made the point that this is not the first time that this has happened here and that if you're blaming this on terrorists, you actually also have to look at the people who did those other attacks, why they did it too, not just write off the fact that it could be a homophobic reaction, as opposed to ISIS infiltration.
I guess, on the other side, there's been a lot of coverage or column inches given over to Muslims themselves, so that they can talk out loud about both the problem of homophobia in the U.S., as well as homophobia in the Muslim world and why we as a community have been silent on the point. I think you can see these glimmers of it. I mean, it feels new. It feels like progress, it does. And what I wrote was, in its own way, trying to encourage more of that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Raillan, thank you very much.
RAILLAN BROOKS: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Raillan Brooks is an associate editor at the Village Voice.