Editorial: LGBTQ victims deserve recognition, not erasure

We all may be Americans, but not all of us are targeted simply for whom we love.

In the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others during a shooting spree at the Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub Pulse early Sunday morning. Police shot and killed Mateen, ending a rampage many are labeling an act of domestic terrorism. What was once a sanctuary for dancing and expression for the LGBTQ+ community turned into a night of hate, fear and horrific violence.

Evidence that Mateen swore allegiance to ISIS before the shooting, was on the FBI watch list in 2003 and may have been a closeted homosexual himself has come to light as the investigation unfolds.

While the motivations remain unknown, the location of the attack at a gay nightclub is not random. We have yet to confirm that this was an act of terror, but we know that the LGBTQ+ community was the target of this brutal attack. We have a long way to go to make LGBTQ+ members feel safe and equal in our society, and we cannot let partisanship dismiss the identities that needlessly cost these victims their lives.

This act of violence is one of countless hate crimes members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced for years — and one that we cannot afford to ignore. But if conservative politicians have their way, the focus would be on lost “Americans” rather than lost “LGBTQ+ people” — as if that is a distinction that does anything but ignore part of who those individuals were.

Very few Republican leaders were willing to acknowledge that the LGBTQ+ victims were just that — members of the LGBTQ+ community. Those who did mention the label appropriated the horrific incident to fit their own political cause. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump congratulated himself for his own opinions on the shooting and Ted Cruz claimed that those who are pro-Muslim are anti-LGBTQ+.

Though they are quick to insult President Barack Obama for not using labels such as “radical jihadist terrorists,” they refuse to accurately label the victims who were murdered for their identity.

When we disregard the identities of those who were killed, it is not a message of solidarity — it is erasure. They were attacked for a reason, and that reason was intolerance toward different sexual orientations. This intolerance is not found in one single religion, it is found all over the world — including the United States.

In order to end these heinous hate crimes, we must admit and recognize that they exist. Yes, these victims were Americans, but they were Americans who faced pressures and violence many others never will. That is a distinction actually worth making.

According to a 2015 report by the FBI, 18.6 percent of the 5,462 single-bias hate crimes that occurred in 2014 were attributable to sexual orientation. Only 16 states have anti-discrimination laws that give protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, over 100 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been pending in various states since the beginning of the year — including the HB2 law in North Carolina, which bans transgender people from using restrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex.

As Americans, we must recognize the violence and inequality that LGBTQ+ citizens still face to this day and do everything we can to uplift them. Instead of ignoring that this grave injustice specifically targeted a group of marginalized people, we must stand together and unite with them during this time.

We see mass shootings occur time and time again with the same reactions — thoughts and condolences accompanied by incompetent inaction. As our leaders call for stricter gun control, war on terrorism or a ban on all Muslims, one paramount resolution is missing from the list: true equality — even in death.

We cannot fully mourn the victims if we refuse to fully acknowledge what we lost: American, innocent, LGBTQ+ lives.