The following column by Scott Simpson, public advocacy director at Muslim Advocates, ran in the Advocate on June 12, 2017.
On June 11, 2016, my husband and I took to our annual tradition of riding our motorcycle in D.C.’s pride parade. We felt safe in our community, safe in our pride. The next night, 49 people were slaughtered as they danced at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
In the hours following the massacre, heartbreaking social media posts and text conversations of the victims’ final moments began to tell the stories of what happened in their own words. Most were young, most were Latino, and not one of them deserved such a brutal and premature death.
Eddie Jamaldroy Justice’s final text messages to his mother still bring me to tears: “Mommy I love you. In club they shooting.”
Ultimately, 49 people were killed and 53 were wounded. But they were only the first victims of Omar Mateen’s rampage.
Across the country, American Muslims girded themselves for what has become a terrifying but familiar backlash against them. When anyone with a Muslim-sounding name makes headlines for a crime or an attack, the entire Muslim community is usually blamed. Vandals opened fire on a Texas mosque and Muslim men were beaten or shot in Orlando, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Minnesota.
My husband and I had felt so safe and so free the day before, revving our engines in front of tens of thousands of LGBTQ folks and our allies. That sense of safety was halted by this frightening reminder that there are those in the world who would prefer us dead.
That’s the same feeling that many American Muslims must feel every single day. Anti-Muslim violence has surged under the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, making 2016 the most brutal year for American Muslims since the backlash following 9/11.
Trump quickly seized on the Pulse shooting in an attempt to further isolate Muslims and LGBTQ people from one another. His zeal for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the country even led him to become the first GOP presidential nominee in history to reference the LGBTQ community in his acceptance speech. The party that let us die during the AIDS crisis, that opposes hate crime protections and our right to use the bathroom was now vowing to “protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”
But the LGBTQ community never took the bait. Instead of broadbrush blaming of an entire religion for the act of one crazed individual, it locked arms with American Muslims in an incredible sign of unity. Major community organizations released a statement that hit the point about the commonality between our communities, writing that “as LGBTQ people who lived through the AIDS crisis, we know what it looks like and feels like to be scapegoated and isolated in the midst of a crisis…”
Muslims, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community held blood drives, rallies and vigils together. The intersectional experiences of LGBTQ Muslims built the foundation for this intercultural understanding with groups like the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity leading the way.
In the face of tragedy, a stronger bond between communities was cemented.
Partnership like this takes work to build and maintain. Both communities are as susceptible to latent bigotry and distrust as any other but it’s become more clear every day that there is a lot more that unites us than divides us.
Continuing these partnerships has become part of my day-to-day work at a civil rights group for Muslims. We’re working together to torpedo horrible administration appointees like Mark Green and David Clarke; We’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder against discrimination bills masquerading as “religious freedom;” And, together, we’re partnering on efforts to change public opinion and actually reduce bigotry in the long-term.
It takes the hottest fire to forge the strongest steel. This tragedy forged a partnership that, with ongoing dialogue and work, will continue for generations to come.
SCOTT SIMPSON is the public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates and a past-president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association.