Between the Bataclan and Pulse: The Unique Suffering of Orlando Massacre's Victims

Many of the murdered and wounded had already fallen prey to violence, persecution and humiliation every day of their lives.

Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz
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Mourners outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016.
Mourners outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016.Credit: Handout, AFP
Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz

It wouldn’t have been any less bad if Omar Mateen had perpetrated the massacre at a “normal” club rather than a gay club, as did his terrorist colleagues who slaughtered innocent revelers at the Bataclan in Paris.

Still, the attack at Pulse in Orlando deserves discussion because of the nature of the place, and not necessarily from the perspective of the Islamic State. To this murder corporation, Paris with its cultural and entertainment institutions is as filthy as Orlando with its amusement parks and LGBT life. To the murderers there’s no difference, and anyone who deludes himself into thinking there is only plays into their hands.

The difference between the Bataclan and Pulse isn’t in the terrorists’ target but rather the feeling of victimhood and the responsibility the issue puts on society. Many people visiting LGBT venues like Pulse see them as a kind of refuge, a safe space. They go there to be who they are, free of the constant pressure that some of them endure every day. They go there to party, to dance, to laugh – to live, like every other free person.

Many of the murdered and wounded at this club had already fallen victim to violence, persecution and humiliation. Sometimes they suffered at home at the hands of parents or relatives, sometimes at school or work, and sometimes it’s just an endless string of humiliation and teasing on the street, at the beach and on social networks. This is the bitter truth that many people, both in the United States and Israel, refuse to see.

For the victims, the murder rampage in this cheerful, sun-soaked city is a double blow; it’s hard to imagine that any of the Bataclan attendees experienced what's still the reality among many LGBT people. Some of them are anxious when they show up at places like Pulse.

This concealment, this conspiracy of silence, this fear of other people’s reaction is often amplified by very palpable fears. What will happen on the way there? What will happen on the way home? And if something happens, do we tell the police, who will mock us, or our parents, who will banish us?

Whether it be “plain” homophobia or a mixture of homophobia and extreme Islam with Islamic State terror, or the homophobia and racism of skinheads and neo-Nazis, or any other sick concoction, the harm is unbearable because it joins a deep hurt that has harried some of these people ever since they stood up for their beliefs.

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters after a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, in Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016.Credit: Steve Nesius, Reuters

I can’t forget the difficult feelings in the Israeli LGBT community following the Barnoar murders in 2009. Anyone who thinks that these feelings disappeared after the story dropped from the headlines is making a bitter mistake. For years, these murders have hung like a bland cloud over every activity and a seed of fear in the hearts of young people – and older people – some of whom have experienced more than their share of violence.

The fact that the murders are unsolved certainly hasn’t added to the sense of security. That’s also how it was after Shira Banki was murdered at last year’s Jerusalem Pride Parade, in the same place and by the same bastard who sowed the seeds of fear exactly one decade earlier.

The LGBT community’s impressive successes, the major public events and the enormous changes in the lives of many of its members are real and important, but this is the half full part of the glass. The other half is filled with violence, discrimination and fear.

All this is of no interest to the murderous emissaries of the Islamic State and the terror groups. They act against everyone: Jews, minorities, gays and simply Americans, French people and Israelis. Everyone is a target in their eyes.

But the victims, as a group, aren’t identical; special understanding is required. Openness, tolerance and equal rights are a civilized society’s best answer to terror and murder. Its power is no less than any military operation.

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