On early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida, a lone gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub. The shooter, Omar Mateen, killed 53 people - the overwhelming majority of whom were Latina/o, Black and Brown members of the LGBTQ community, enjoying an evening in Orlando's "premier gay club" just south of the city's downtown corridor.  

The media instantly turned to the routine terrorism, the Islamic State and "radicalisation" narratives once the culprit's religion was identified and, as a result, gradually diverted attention from the specific racial and sexual identity of the victims, and moreover, the broader context of reactionary homophobia sweeping through America's South.

Orlando shooting: 'No break in the gunfire’

The Orlando massacre, dubbed the "deadliest mass shooting in US history", led to the instant repositioning of Islam as the civilisational enemy of the West.

Considering the target of the attack, media coverage redeployed the trope that Muslims are inherently and irredeemably homophobic.

This coverage glosses over the existence and disproportionate vulnerability of LGBTQ Muslims, and, as illustrated in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando massacre, labels the tragedy an act of terror instead of what it truly is - a horrific and unprecedented hate crime.      

Muslim and LGBT Americans

Muslim Americans and LGBT Americans share the common experience of being on the defensive when news outlets and world events put their lives under the microscope.


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This moment of mourning, however, was singular and acutely personal for me (Mack) because it tied together these two identities, so often placed in opposition on our TV screens and in repetitive, stale stories reinforcing the message that one cannot be both gay and Muslim.

For Muslims all along the LGBT spectrum, whether they identify as such or not, the Orlando shooting results in deep spiritual and physical pain because they are being literally torn apart ...

 

For Muslims all along the LGBT spectrum, whether they identify as such or not, the Orlando shooting results in deep spiritual and physical pain because they are being literally torn apart, asked to choose between the communities that structure their daily lives.

Queer people of Islamic heritage have often been erased, by both allies and enemies, homophobes and homophiles: those who rightly fight against Islamophobia have not always been aware or inclusive of the many LGBT individuals in their midst, and the LGBT mainstream and its allies have not always condemned xenophobic Islamophobia, and have in certain cases contributed to it.

Yet, there are thousands if not millions who belong to both LGBT and Muslim communities, who refuse to choose between supporting gay rights and battling Islamophobia, often paying a heavy price in terms of alienation from friends or family.

These people are today mourning twice, some apologising for a crime they played no part in, some bracing themselves for the inevitable Islamophobic backlash and news cycle that will present them as victims of their culture.

Enhanced vulnerability

The Pulse club's Saturday night party was not just gay but also Latin-themed, drawing from Florida's bustling Latino community.

People shout slogans as they gather in front of a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando [AP]

Many queer folks of Arab, Central Asian, and North African descent have developed solidarities with Latinos, through physical and cultural similarities as well as shared histories, which intertwined in Islamic Spain.

This communal bonding often happens in nightlife spaces. As the national epidemic of murders targeting trans people of colour has shown, queer Blacks and Latinos are especially vulnerable in public space.

Queer people of colour's vulnerability is one that brings up the unavoidable issue of gun control, as their spaces of assembly are more often located in or next to under-secured neighbourhoods where they may be more easily targeted.


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It is quite telling that the attack against Pulse, which is located in a residential neighbourhood, was so murderous, while the attack against gay West Hollywood's highly visible LA Pride, undertaken by James Howell, a non-Muslim white man carrying explosives, was not.

Mateen, already under official surveillance, had been interviewed by the FBI and was still able to buy an assault weapon, while Howell did not even register on the radar: both were sexists capable of mortal violence.

A homophobic hate crime

Judging from Omar Mateen's media portrait, which can only be incomplete at this stage, he seems to have dabbled in superficial religiosity in the couple of years leading up to his heinous act.

His sexism, however, was longstanding and violent, leaving the lasting impression that his was more of a hate crime than an act ordained by his religion.

As countless Muslim progressives have explained, Islamic theology contains a culture of tolerance, even sexual permission, which must be nurtured.

 

This sexism was nurtured in a Southern US context where homophobic laws are being pushed by politicians and pundits following recent LGBTQ civil rights strides, spaces where queer People of Colour sit at the dangerous intersection of armed homophobia, xenophobia and racism, and occasionally, hostility toward LGBTQ people and lifestyles present within, but not exclusive to, Muslim American communities.

These communities however are changing, growing increasingly accepting of homosexuality according to the Pew Research Center, especially among the young.

American Muslim tolerance levels equal or surpass other US religious groups, the demographics Muslim Americans are most appropriately compared with.

As countless Muslim progressives have explained, Islamic theology contains a culture of tolerance, even sexual permission, which must be nurtured.

We must refrain from presenting Muslims with a false choice between "Western" sexual liberty and "Eastern" sexual modesty, and demanding a too simple allegiance.

It is our profound hope that Muslim and LGBT communities do not turn on each other after this crisis, but rather, build upon their shared status as victims of intolerance.

Khaled A Beydoun is an assistant professor of law at the Barry University Dwayne O Andreas School of Law. He is a native of Detroit.

Mehammed A Mack is an assistant professor of French Studies and SWG (the Study of Women and Gender) at Smith College in the US.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. 

Source: Al Jazeera