While the U.S. LGBT community is becoming better perceived by public opinion, the massacre in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016 was a cruel reminder that bars have once again become possible death spots.
They might have had something to celebrate in June. On June 26, they were going to celebrate the first anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage by the Supreme Court. Traditional and festive Gay Pride events were set to spread through most major cities in the country, celebrating this historic achievement for the LGBT movement.
But for gay Americans, the anniversary will taste of blood. The attack at the Orlando, Florida gay nightclub, Pulse, was like a tragic reminder, when, during the night of June 11 to 12, 49 clubbers were killed and 53 wounded when they came out to celebrate a “Latino” evening. The LGBT community remains a target. And, as in the 1970s, bars such as Pulse, refuges for men and women who still face stigmatization, are once again possible death spots.
Renewal of Tensions against Gay People
The backdrop of the attack, committed by a terrorist claiming to be a part of the Islamic State, is very specific: the politically-motivated terrorism is added to the usual homophobia driven by religious ultraconservatives of all stripes. However, this nonstandard attack brings an end to a year paradoxically marked by renewed tension against gay and transsexual people in the country. And in the aftermath of the Orlando attack, a 20-year-old man, heavily armed and carrying chemicals, was arrested in California as he headed to the Los Angeles Gay Pride, where tens of thousands of people were to meet.
Since the legalization of gay marriage, homophobic and transphobic protestations have taken on new forms. Traders across the country, generally of the evangelical Christian movement, have taken responsibility for their refusal to serve gay couples. A Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, was an emblematic case of this new “cultural war.” She was briefly imprisoned in early September for having stubbornly refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, considering the ceremony contrary to her beliefs. By justifying her intransigence by the “religious liberty” due to every American citizen, this apostolic Christian gained the “unequivocal” support of Ted Cruz, the then Republican candidate in the race for the White House.
The ‘Bathroom Wars’
Over the months, Conservatives moved the battle toward transgender people. All the while, in all social circles, thousands of Americans who claim their gender reassignment are still struggling to have their rights recognized. Transgender people, now the primary victims of a form of demonization, find themselves in the heart of the “bathroom war,” which is taking its toll in several U.S. states.
Despite the support provided by Barack Obama, the possibility for transgender people to access toilets and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity and not to their biological sex is questioned in several states, like North Carolina, or in certain cities, like Houston, Texas. These regions have rejected an antidiscrimination bill proposed by the municipality, shouting “No men in women’s bathrooms!” suggesting that such openness would encourage predators to strike. According to organizations defending LGBT rights, some 200 bills have been submitted to states and cities in the past year to hamper the fight against discrimination against homosexuals and transsexuals.
These new forms of discrimination join a persistent homophobia, measured each year in FBI statistics. In 2014, one fifth of color, religion or gender-related violence affected the LGBT community. Proportionally, gays and transsexuals would be four times likelier to be assaulted than Muslims and two times likelier than black people. These tensions are incongruous with the fact that public opinion seems to be more tolerant year after year toward members of the LGBT community. In 2016, Americans who support gay marriage now make up 55 percent of the population, compared to 35 percent in 2001, according to the Pew Research Center. For those under 35, the proportion increased from 51 percent to 67 percent between 2003 and 2014. Notice that only 42 percent of Muslims are pro-gay marriage. But the most resistant community is still that of the white evangelical Protestants – only 28 percent of them are in favor.