Why fearmongering and surveillance won’t end the violence: An open letter to Barney Frank about the Orlando shooting

Lindsay Schubiner • Jun 20, 2016
Memorial outside Stonewall in honor of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. Photo source: Getty Images

Dear Congressman Frank,

I’ve struggled to get these words on paper, dealing with my own grief about the targeting and murder of mostly Latinx LGBTQ people this week while also trying to show up for the queer people of color in my life. I’m sure you are also coping in your own way. But your comments about the Orlando shooting were hurtful, and not representative of the real solidarity and intersectional analysis coming out of so many LGBTQ communities.

I only met you twice, briefly, and I’m sure you don’t remember me. But as a queer Hill staffer at the time, I was excited to meet a trailblazer. As you were leaving Congress, I attended a small celebration in your honor, where I heard story after story about your passion and commitment to fighting for what’s right.

That’s why I was particularly disappointed to read your statements about the Orlando shooting that minimized homophobia against people of color in the U.S., provided fuel for Islamophobia, and supported increased surveillance of Muslim communities.

In this time of devastation and deep mourning, the last thing I want is for politicians and our LGBTQ leaders to target another marginalized group of people based on fear-mongering and bias. I certainly don’t want it to happen in my name.

We were never safe to begin with

According to The New York Times, you said, “It’s an attack against gay people but it does not reflect a general deterioration of our standing in America. It reflects the virulence of the hatred in this sector of Islam.”

You’re right on one count, at least. Violence against LGBTQ people, particularly queer and trans people of color, “does not reflect a general deterioration of our standing in America.” Indeed, this violence has been a drumbeat throughout American history. We are not less safe after the Orlando shooting than we were before. We were never safe to begin with.

But you neglected to mention that  LGBTQ people of color have always been less safe than you and I, as white people, are. Sadly, the increasing sense of safety that white LGBTQ people may have felt in recent years is only based on the erasure of violence against LGBTQ people of color.

We must not forget the Latinx LGBTQ people who were overwhelmingly the victims and survivors of the shooting at Pulse nightclub. And we must uplift the voices of LGBTQ Muslims, who are with us in fearing anti-LGBTQ violence while they live with the threat of anti-Muslim violence.

Scapegoating leads to even more hate-fueled violence

Unfortunately, your comments fed into a narrative that foments xenophobia and casts suspicion on an entire religious community. We have a problem in this country, and it isn’t Muslim communities. We have a problem with homophobia and transphobia, with racism and white supremacy, with patriarchy, with inequality, and with militarism and easy access to assault rifles.

The Orlando shooting is the 133rd mass shooting in the U.S. in the past year, and of those only three were committed by Muslims. Yet because of the entrenched racism and Islamophobia in our society, this tragedy was immediately met with stereotyping of Muslims and calls for racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim communities. This is the type of irresponsible scapegoating that leads to the devastating prevalence of hate-fueled violence against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim.

Surveillance is not the answer-and it doesn’t work

You argued that the Orlando attack “reinforces the case for significant surveillance by law enforcement of people who have given some indication of adoption of these angry Islamic hate views.”

When our (relatively) safe spaces for queer and trans people are threatened or destroyed, our response should not be to support the targeting of other people’s communities and safe spaces. That’s exactly what the discriminatory and abusive surveillance you’re proposing does to Muslims, to LGBTQ people, and particularly to LGBTQ Muslims.

According to one report, the New York Police Department’s broad program of surveillance targeting Muslims made many Muslims afraid to meet in their own community spaces. The week the program was publicized, “the students wouldn’t come to the prayer room,” the leader of a Muslim student group at a New York college said. “They felt they couldn’t meet in their own space. The idea of being surveilled-for a 19- or 20-year-old-is a terrifying thing.”

This should sound familiar to queer folks now acutely feeling the loss of safety in our community spaces.

For those still not convinced, there remains the compelling fact that mass surveillance has not proven to be even minimally effective at stopping violence. It certainly wasn’t effective at stopping the Orlando shooter, who had been investigated by the FBI in depth on multiple occasions-not simply surveilled.

After Orlando

Instead, our leaders could ban civilian access to assault rifles. They could work to end domestic violence. (That is truly where the shooter’s history of violence can be seen; not in any ties to violent extremists.) And they could combat racism, homophobia, and transphobia so that these toxic ideas can’t be readily plucked from American culture and turned deadly by a violent and disturbed person.

Queer people have learned the hard way to expect scapegoating from presidential candidates and other politicians, who feel they must pander to Americans’ fear and xenophobia rather than fighting to tear down the hate that divides us. But there’s no reason for you to do so. As a longtime, prominent LGBTQ leader, you should not support the sacrifice of our queer and trans Muslim family and their communities to win a false sense of safety, when you can instead fight for liberation for all of us-together.

Lindsay Schubiner is the Senior Program Manager at the Center for New Community

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