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Orlando: a horror that has unraveled hatred within UK media

14 Jun 2016

Last night thousands of Londoners gathered in the heart of Soho to pay respect to the 49 innocent club-goers killed in the Orlando mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday. It was an emotional yet profound vigil to attend, especially as it took place in Old Compton Street, the home of London’s most iconic and most-visited queer clubs. We were there to remember the victims of the hate crime that have hit Orlando, but also to remember the victims of past hate-crimes reported and unreported.

As a queer woman, I have been attending queer clubs in Soho since the age of 17. They were an escape away from heterosexual clubs, so often branded as “normal”. In reality, for people within the LGBT+ community, queer clubs are often the only spaces where a sense of normality can be found. Where you can be non-cis, gender non-conforming and feel accepted within an inclusive atmosphere, away from the judgmental eyes and ignorance sadly found outside of the LGBT+ community.

Consequently, the Orlando shootings come with even greater poignancy and sadness for a community already marginalized in wider society. For a gay club to be directly targeted cannot be named solely as an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime against the LGBT+ community

In the wake of such a horrific event, many news outlets including Sky News, chose to ignore this fact, placing greater emphasis on Omar Mateen’s pledge to the Islamic State, prior to his attack, and refusing to acknowledge that the attack was driven by homophobia.

This came to the forefront when Sky interviewed Owen Jones on Sunday, a gay left-wing journalist, alongside Telegraph columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer. Whilst Jones tried his best to assert that the attack was also a homophobic led crime stating: “It is one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT+ people in the western world for generations and it has to be called out as such”, it was clear that host Mark Longhurst and fellow journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer would not accept this fact.

Longhurst and Hartley-Brewer interrupted and ignored Jones numerous times during the interview, adding to Jones’ already distressed state, which ultimately forced Jones to leave mid-interview as Longhurst constantly pressed the opinion that the shootings were an attack on “human beings” who were “trying to enjoy themselves, whatever their sexuality”.

In the aftermath of the interview, Jones attempted to deflect the attention from him, tweeting to his followers not to “troll” Julia or Mark. This episode was a saddening reminder of how ignorant and scandal-obsessed media outlets can be, with Julia Hartley-Brewer deciding to place greater emphasis on herself as a heterosexual, white middle-class woman, unable to fully grasp the LGBT+ issues at hand. This was epitomized in her response article, describing Owen Jones as “wielding a hate-mob”.

Similar ignorance in the media has most infamously manifested itself in the reporting of the shooting, with The Daily Mail choosing to overlook the massacre on their front page yesterday. They insensitively chose to feature an advert for pearl earrings alongside a xenophobic story about a possible 1.5 million Turkish nationals entering the UK.

Other erasure can be found within the media, which largely ignored the Latinx, black and trans community who were affected in the incident. Moreover, the night of the attack was specified as Latinx night, a night predominantly celebrated by queer, black, trans and Latinx club-goers, a night to celebrate not only the LGBT+ community but their culture. Though much of the media attention has ignored this fact, with Pulse club-goers taking to twitter to assert their upset at this lack of acknowledgement. This wider erasure shines further light on the lack of recognition for people of colour within the LGBT+ community with a 2012 report on hate violence against the queer community finding that LGBT+ people of colour were 1.82 times more likely to experience physical violence.

It is this exact type of journalism that further limits the number of platforms available for queer and non-cis voices, in a journalist industry dominated by white privileged voices, eager to cis-wash and argue that they can understand the tribulations of society’s most unsafe.

Now a new turn of events has been revealed today that the killer, Omar Mateen, reportedly was a regular visitor to Pulse. This places doubt on earlier claims that Mateen was repulsed by two men kissing and suggests that his actions could have been motivated by internalized self-hatred and not solely part of his allegiance to the Islamic State, which he claimed moments before the attack.

This adds greater doubt as to how the media will continue to cover this horrific incident, and I fear that as this incident unfolds, more attention will be placed on the speculative, click-bait elements of the tragedy. This will draw attention away from the core tragedy at hand; that some of the most marginalised people in society are still left without a sense of safety, in a world where hate crime and homophobia remain rife.