Homo-hatred a lethal illness

The Orlando massacre would be shocking at any time, but it was especially hurtful at the beginning of LGBT Pride Month.

Orlando was completing a week of gay events and PrideFest had opened to warm weather and happy crowds along Milwaukee’s lakefront.

The color and camaraderie of annual Pride events are legendary.

Young parents with babies in strollers mix with bikers, leather men and drag queens. Old married couples, ripped guys, shy newbies, lesbians, merchants, politicos and clergy all sport rainbow-colored accoutrements. There is much open affection — handholding and kissing — and a gentle acceptance of others’ playful and sometimes outrageous personal styles.

Spending a day drinking in all that diversity and positive energy only to learn the next day that someone has mowed down your people was terribly painful.

Through decades of covering hate crimes in Milwaukee, I’ve often thought about the vulnerability of our LGBT community. Attacks on gay and transgender individuals are often unusually vicious. The crimes are committed by perpetrators with deep animus toward the victims’ sexual variance. They can involve serious injuries and, in the case of murder, show evidence of “overkill.”

That appears to be the case with Omar Mateen, who sprayed gunfire through the crowded Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12. His father said Mateen had been enraged by the sight of two men showing affection toward each other in public just weeks before the attack. Mateen was outraged that his 3-year-old son witnessed the scene.

Given that the boy’s father is now a reviled mass murderer, Mateen’s son is going to have a lot more to deal with than witnessing a fleeting PDA.

As if we didn’t know before, Mateen’s rage proves that homo-hatred is a lethal mental illness. Purveyed by religious fanatics who cling to poisonous, centuries-old texts, homo-hatred leads some parents to reject their children and to justify murder in the name of God.

If nail-biting and internet addiction are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, why not the far more damaging scourge of homo-hatred?

The subject of Mateen’s anti-gay animus has become secondary to the search for his connection to jihadi groups. It’s likely to be submerged in a new debate about the easy availability of assault rifles. But no LGBT people will ever forget what happened in Orlando and why.

News coverage was generally sensitive and informative. The world got to see very clearly that the gay victims and survivors of Orlando have devoted families and friends. There were long lines to donate blood and many offers of assistance from police and medical agencies nationwide.

Some media outlets published timelines of hate incidents that the LGBT community has endured over the decades. The press interviewed LGBT leaders and previewed upcoming Pride events around the country, with special attention to security concerns.

Identifying would-be gunmen and preventing terrorist attacks is going to be a continual challenge in our open society. In this presidential election year, the debate is likely to be fierce. Get involved and let candidates know what you think.

Meanwhile, we can honor the dead in Orlando and stand up to the haters by continuing to observe Pride month. We’re gay and proud and American, and we’re not going back to the closet.