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Op-Ed: One Month After Orlando, We Must 'Uproot' and 'Disarm' Hatred

One month after the deadly massacre at an Orlando gay bar, we must work toward uprooting and disarming the hatred "that runs so deep in our culture," says Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith.
Vigil For Orlando Massacre Victims
A mourner attends a vigil for victims of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida nearly a week earlier, in front of the United States embassy on June 18, 2016 in Berlin, Germany.Adam Berry / Getty Images

Was the young man who fired an automatic rifle into a crowd of more than 300 people at an Orlando gay bar an ISIS terrorist? Was he a closeted gay man lashing out explosively in the ultimate act of self-hatred? Was it both?

These were the questions I fielded from reporters in the days and weeks following the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

As head of Equality Florida, the state’s LGBT civil rights organization, I know that sifting through rumor, fact and speculation is important if we want clarity on what must change in our culture and in our laws to stem the tide of mass murders.

So let’s start with this: No one I’ve spoken with - local, state and federal law enforcement and government officials - about the motive believes that the killer was operating under the direction of ISIS. The consensus is that his ISIS claim was theater. He checked social media in the midst of the carnage to see if his strategy was getting him all the attention he craved.

"We must uproot the hatred that runs so deep in our culture that a father of an Orlando victim refused to claim his gay son's body. And we must also disarm it. We must take on the gun culture and the fear, paranoia and violence it breeds."

Next came the conjecture that the shooter was a conflicted closet case taught to despise what he could not reconcile within himself. A man who claimed that he’d had a clandestine affair with the murderer was deemed not credible by law enforcement. And investigators say that they have found nothing backing up reports that he sought men via online apps: no email trail, no secret texts, no memberships on gay dating sites.

Right now, the best evidence points to a far more common tale: Another delusional, young, American man, with a cultivated hatred toward a specific group and easy access to military-grade weapons, who believed mass murder would show the world he mattered.

To me, that story is the most chilling of all, for its very predictability.

Does anyone doubt another mass shooting will occur in America with the same features as these past ones? Can we not say, with near certainty, it will once again be a young man, his fragile masculinity nursing a deep hatred he believes must be validated by violence?

In the aftermath, we have seen the predictable ugliness of those who would fan the flames of division. But overwhelmingly, the people of Orlando have shown a better way. The LGBT and Latino communities have been embraced, as each community grieves the dead and injured: of the 49 killed, 90 percent were Hispanic, and nearly half were Puerto Rican.

Drive around town and you encounter a sea of rainbow flags. Listen at the vigils and you would hear diverse voices, in English and Spanish, calling on the community and the nation not to meet hate with hate.

Within the LGBT community, there is a palpable shift. Anger is rising from our overwhelming grief. We refuse to accept “thoughts and prayers” from leaders who have been feeding anti-LGBT bigotry, who would deny us the very rights they demand for themselves. It is crystal clear who needs protecting in our state from real, not fabricated dangers.

Yet there are glimpses of hope that some of our elected and religious leaders have a new clarity that they must answer the question: Which side are you on?

The Republican Mayor of Orange County, Teresa Jacobs, apologized publicly for failing to lead on LGBT equality and called on the GOP to embrace ending discrimination.

An Orlando megachurch pastor and a Florida-based Catholic bishop have spoken out against religious voices that dehumanizes LGBT Americans including their own.

So yes, we must uproot the hatred that runs so deep in our culture that a father of an Orlando victim refused to claim his gay son’s body. And we must also disarm it. We must take on the gun culture and the fear, paranoia and violence it breeds.

It is immoral to simply hope the next mass shooting passes our house and hits our neighbors instead. There is evidence that an emerging majority in America is ready to take on this challenge.

A new CBS poll shows 57 percent support for a ban on assault weapons in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, up 13 points since December. Non-partisan coalitions are forming among groups that have not traditionally included gun violence as a priority issue.

After the last candle of the last vigil flickers out, what will be our lasting memorial to the slain in Orlando and every mass shooting that preceded?

Let our anger and grief harden into resolve.

The choice is clear: support the full humanity of LGBT people, or endorse bigotry. Support limiting access to weapons of mass destruction, or enable slaughter.

The time has come for action and accounting. We must ask ourselves and demand an answer from our leaders: Which side are you on?

Nadine Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, the state's largest organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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