Soon after the first news reports of the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, hit the airwaves, Omar Mateen, a Muslim, was identified as the shooter.  After a few hours, the perpetrator of this horrible event was termed a “radicalized Islamic terrorist” perhaps inspired by ISIS.  But as a gay man, and as the gay community has since given voice to an alternate view of Mateen’s motivations, I began to wonder if maybe the whole “Islamic terrorist” explanation was a bit too easy, too pat, too nicely wrapped up in the black and white ISIS flag.  No question, this is the explanation that the news media promoted since it was the single motivation that no red blooded, patriotic American could question.

But I couldn’t help asking the question, “Why a gay club?”  Sure, I’m very much aware that in many Muslim countries the penalties for being gay – or more specifically for engaging in gay sex – are severe and in some cases bring down the death penalty.   Many folks have pointed to ISIS killing homosexuals but the reality is that ISIS imposes the death penalty for a broad range of offenses against the “state”  including simply disobeying orders or refusing to pay taxes or refusing to have sex with their soldiers. 

“Why a gay club?”  The self-radicalized Islamic terrorist explanation didn’t quite fit.  ISIS sponsored attacks have been directed against large crowds of people gathered in sports stadia or theaters and shopping malls.  Sure, the home grown, one-off attacks perpetrated by ISIS supporters have indeed targeted smaller venues with not a lot of people.  But take, for example, the San Bernardino killings that took place in a large cafeteria space where hundreds were gathered.  Within hours it was determined that both Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik had computer records that tied them directly to ISIS.   But not so with Omar Mateen.

“Why a gay club?” In fact, as more facts came to light about the shooter, Pulse patrons had seen him there – chatting, laughing, dancing with other male patrons – over a period of three years.  It also came to light that he had attended Disney World’s “Gay Days.”   He had used gay hook-up apps.  To us in the gay community, it was becoming increasingly clear that the slaughter of 49 men and women at Pulse, wasn’t just a simple case of a “self radicalized Islamic terrorist” as the press would have us believe.  There was, we believed, much more to the story. 

“Why a gay club?” Some news outlets did the same kind of “wondering” that we did.  Was he a closeted homosexual?  Was he a troubled man who couldn’t come to grips with his attraction to other men?  Was he battling the deeply rooted strictures of Islam against gays with his own gay demons?  Did his own internal self-loathing finally come to a head with murderous results?  We gay men in particular know how wrenching and emotionally destructive it can be too undergo this internal battle.  Almost all of us have been there.  And for some men, particularly young men,  it’s too much.   Too often suicide is the only resolution too many young men chose.

“Why a gay club?”  I have to give CNN’s Anderson Cooper credit.  As a gay man he immediately understood when more of Mateen’s life story was revealed that the “terrorist theme” might not be the whole story.  His on air confrontation with Florida State Attorney, Pam Bondi, is illustrative of the rampant hypocrisy the LGBT community faces every day.  While it is axiomatic that Islam is the “bĂȘte noir” when it comes to the condemnation of gays, America and Christianity are not shining examples of tolerance towards gays either.   We all know this.  Cooper’s challenging Bondi after her defense of Florida’s same sex marriage bans that would destroy families (heterosexual ones, at least), Florida’s ban on gay adoption in order not to put young children into the arms of gay pedophiles, Florida’s outlawing of civil unions, Florida’s law “protecting” pastors who refuse to serve the LGBT community are all measures – laws – that are profoundly anti-LGBT.  So as Pam Bondi was declaring her sympathy for and her love of the Pulse nightclub victims and the LGBT community in general, her past actions pretty much ripped her newly found love for gays to shreds.  And this is precisely what Anderson Cooper was trying to do. Why?  Because Pam Bondi is only one example of how the LGBT community is still under attack all across the country despite all the words of sympathy, condolence and love heaped upon Orlando, Florida.   

“Why a gay club?”  It would appear that Omar Mateen – late 9-11 calls professing devotion of ISIS, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda notwithstanding – has a history of violence and anti-social behavior.  He was cited 30 times while at school for unacceptable behavior.  He’s been fired from jobs for his inappropriate workplace behavior.  He has threatened other folks with violence many times.  He was a wife beater.  Still the press remains glommed onto the “self-radicalized Islamist terrorist" despite so many incidents in his past that point to other possible motivations.  In fact, his actions that night at Pulse, are not typical of either your Islamist terrorist or your deranged individual simply snapping one day.  What he did with his calls was both to inculcate himself from any association with his inner conflicts over his sexuality and to self-justify his actions by associating himself with other religious terrorists by proclaiming that he was avenging the West’s war against Islam.  Thus, by every measure, he is not to blame.   As far as I can recall, only Dylann Roof proclaimed his purpose in gunning down nine Black church members.   No such explanations from Adam Lanza or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebald or Syed Farook.  But, oddly, Omar Mateen took the time to provide us all with an ironclad, self-serving, explanation for his murderous actions. 

“Why a gay club?”  In discussing the Pulse massacre with my gay friends, they too were immediately suspicious of the prevailing radical Muslim terrorist theme.  Why?  Because each one of us has gone through the wrenching personal trauma of coming to grips with one’s sexual leanings, announcing to our families that we were gay, and suffering the outrage of having to keep on fighting the homophobes, hate mongers, and bigots all across the country even today.  Often, it takes years to finally accept that, yes, we are gay.  Heterosexual men cannot feel the anger and yes, sometimes the rage we feel when we are constantly having to fight marriage bans, adoption bans, bathroom bills, religious freedom laws that are all designed to erase us from America’s consciousness and crush our very humanity.  The vast majority of Americans, being of the heterosexual persuasion, simply do not and cannot know how bloody hard it is to simply carve out a healthy existence surrounded by a culture that demeans, diminishes and demonizes one's very existence.   A Muslim man wrestling with the same fundamental conflicts has an even tougher time. 

“Why a gay club?”   I have no sympathy for Omar Mateen.  I am not defending him.  But he was not simply a Muslim terrorist.  But "Why a gay club?" is a question that is crucial to understanding why this man did what he did.  Because our culture still cannot accept the premise that one’s sexuality is not something we have control over.  And whether the haters cite the Bible or the Koran, the result is the same: the denial of our fundamental humanity.  Those of us who have successfully made it through the realization and acceptance of our “abnormality” and the varying degree of emotional trauma and self-inflicted wounds that invariably accompanies this wrenching path to truth, we traveled this treacherous route and we are at peace with our selves. 

Omar Mateen was not.


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