Silent vigils were worldwide for Orlando these past few weeks. I’m still devastated and have gone to several of the Gayborhood events raising money for the victims and their families. Philadelphia is bleeding hard and it’s encouraging to see how our community has responded in light of such devastating gore.
I am given hope when I see One Million Moms for Gun Control teaming with billionaire Michael Bloomberg to fight back against the NRA. It’s heartening to listen to comedian Hasan Minhaj shame Congress for its inaction and even remind them that they too have blood on their hands; as Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” And still, my hope rises when I look out over the cities of the world and those individuals who stood in silent vigil and marched in defiance for those who died in Orlando’s Latinx gay club.
I do find myself wondering, how on earth did this happen? It feels like a real setback in our quest for equality. Maybe they will never accept us.
The problem is that there is a real culture of hate that orbits the queer community. We are not able to travel anywhere in the world openly unless we know that we can be safe. Safety is our number-one concern. Of any situation in our lives, we first ask, Will I be fired? Will I be ostracized? Will I be targeted? Will they discriminate against me? Will my family be safe?
When pondering the origin of this fear, all road signs point to the religious right. The problem is, the religious right has fueled a hate culture around LGBTQ people. I look at Orlando and think, How did this happen? Where did the shooter get the gall to hate queer people so much? Isn’t it obvious?
I believe that the key to fixing this is education. First, the public must know where many of the hate messages are coming from — who is promoting them and why they are doing it. The right wing has done its work and they’ve created a clear social moral line in the sand where “traditional values” mean “good and ethically sound” and anything progressive is dirty, sleazy and morally wrong; I’m talking about everything related to and dealing with the media. Why is it that we have ratings for shows that are overly sexual but we don’t have ratings for shows that are spiritually violent? And by spiritually violent, I mean the kind of rhetoric that uses religion to beat people down rather than build them up.
I am not the only one asking this question. I help run a campaign by know your neighbors called Stop Queer Fear. They’ve posted stickers and memes on the Internet calling the National Religious Broadcasters’ NRBtv content “homophobic, xenophobic and anti-feminist.” Among the hateful messages that spew from NRBtv is a quote from Pat Robertson of the 700 Club saying, “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
Ten years ago, Robertson may have foretold the massacre in a statement about Disney’s Gay Day at the park: “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you ... It’ll bring about terrorist bombs. It’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”
And of the massacre he said, “The left is having a dilemma of major proportions and I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.”
One of the campaign’s more popular memes displays a man staring zombie-like at a blue-lit television. Out of the screen reaches two silvery arms, reminiscent of Samara breaching the fourth wall in the horror movie “The Ring.” The newly animated arms claw at the air, grabbing at the viewer who gapes in slack-jawed fear. The TV is on an NRBtv station and the caption reads, “Ever wonder where the hate mongering comes from?”
It’s an advertisement linking the National Religious Broadcasters to the underbelly of America’s racist, homophobic and xenophobic base. Alternatively it could read, “Ever wonder who is voting for Trump?”
#StopQueerFear is now calling for content-warning labels for fundamentalist Christian television. The Stop Queer Fear campaign is just a small voice on a vast Internet space, but it begs a very important question, especially now that our democracy teeters on a precarious political cliff that will define America as progressive or launch us back to a time before the civil-rights era.
The campaign is evening the playing field against right-wing conservatives who have fueled the kind of hate that allows a young man to step into a crowded room with a semiautomatic war weapon and casually slaughter people he does not know from Adam. I’m curious to find out what will come of this noxious ozone of hate that is building in our nation — and can campaigns like #StopQueerFear neutralize it?
Crystal Cheatham is a writer and activist in Philadelphia. She chairs the Spirituality & Religion steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign, volunteers with Equality Pennsylvania and William Way LGBT Community Center’s Out & Faithful Committee and has written for the Huffington Post. You can find out more about her at CrystalCheatham.com.