29-year old Omar Mateen walked into the gay-friendly Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Saturday night and opened fire on the clubgoers belonging to the LGBTQ community. After the initial assault, Mateen called 911 and proclaimed his allegiance to the Islamic State(IS). The attack left 50 dead and 53 injured.
While investigation is still on about the nature of the gunman’s ties with the outfit, and his ex-wife stating that he was mentally deranged and never showed signs of leaning towards radical Islam, the hate crime is being condemned the world over. US President Barack Obama stated, “This was an act of terror and act of hate….In the face of hate and violence, we love one another. We will not give in to fear.”
Whether or not the assaulter was backed by IS, whether or not he was of sound mind, the tragedy, yet again, begs our introspection on the way we perceive those who have historically been marked as “different”. Along with sympathetic messages and prayers, there have also been infuriating comments as these:
The assault has been called the worst mass shooting in US history. But sitting half a world away from these gruesome events, why do we need to invest into this news more than a few minutes of our sympathy?
India has about 2.5 million people who identified as LGBT, and the numbers are definitely greater if one also figures in the closeted homosexuals. This community has been struggling for decriminalising homosexuality for quite a while now.
But in India, we still resort to homophobic humour. There is still a strict code for what defines a man or a woman. Anything refusing to conform to these boundaries is a freak of Nature. When a little child asks, “Why do only boys and girls get married? Why not boys and boys?”, her curiosity is passed around as a joke, albeit with a subdued sense of apprehension. ‘Gay’ is still a derogatory term for a man who betrays sentiment or is particular about his appearance. A woman who does as much as riding a bike is a threat to masculinity and feminine propriety everywhere.
India is changing, you might tell me. And we have more pressing concerns that need attention, you might argue. “Ye sab India me nahin hota”, some complacent urbanite might even assure me. But I disagree. Given how the world is shrinking by the minute, I could have had a friend in that club on Saturday night. It wouldn’t have mattered then if he wore a rainbow coloured bandanna or a solid blue one. Lives were lost, and all lives matter.
The US has gay-friendly clubs. In our country which, in the light of recent events, seems to progress two steps and then regress ten, I cannot find a group of five people who understand the true nature of sexual orientation or gender choice. It is as simple as that though- nature, or choice. And it is imperative that we understand this.
It would not do to live in denial of something that comes as naturally to humans as breathing. Sexual orientation is as diverse as race and colour. We need to understand that homosexuality is not some “Western” perversion, that it is not unnatural or curable by yoga.
The irony is that heads of state around the world who have denounced this attack turn a blind eye to the LGBT debate in their own countries.
Unfortunately, religion plays a significant role in every major debate in our country. We will not go into how different religions interpret homosexuality. It would be too simplistic to say that religion and social life should be kept “apart from each other”. But one’s faith, just like one’s sexual orientation should be treated as a personal matter.
We need the present generation to appreciate how a person’s sexual orientation makes him no different from the next. For the development of a safer, more tolerant society which embraces its diversity, the acceptance needs to come from within. More than anything else, we need to ensure that those who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer do not feel the need to remain closeted.
There may be many such rants doing the rounds by now, but it cannot be emphasised upon enough, that a person’s sexual orientation is nobody’s business. Bringing this into practice is the need of the hour, so that we do not live in fear, among numerous other things, of some disturbed man opening fire on innocent revellers anywhere in the world, and taking down a religion, and humanity, with him in the process.
Title image: bostonglobe
Comment below to share with us how India can become a safer country for all people, sexual orientation notwithstanding.