Recognition: an apology to Owen Jones

I am trying to imagine what it would be like to be LGBT and reeling from the news of the Orlando massacre – the worst mass shooting in the United States, with the overwhelming majority of those killed being Latina/o and Black members of the LGBT community. I think this is what Owen Jones was inviting us to do when he was part of a TV interview on Sky News, until he walked out. He gave up on an interviewer who failed to understand that really listening means using your imagination if you are taking time to understanding something.

My reading is that Owen was trying to tell the interviewer and fellow guest that this was a mass homophobic murder, the biggest since the Holocaust, in a long history of hatred and lethal violence towards LGBT people. The interviewer kept wanting to make comparisons with the ISIL terrorist attacks last year on Paris, implying they were identical. In both cases people – it doesn’t matter who, he said – were having a good time and were then murdered by Muslims. When the interviewer failed to see how insensitive he was being, Owen Jones told him he couldn’t understand because he wasn’t gay.

The interviewer probably failed to appreciate what Owen meant by this too, judging by his expression of ‘regret’ and failure to apologise later. He may have heard, “you can’t speak about this because you’re not gay – only gay people are feeling the pain.” But I did not hear Owen Jones like that at all. The interviewer would not have gone off on tangents about Paris if he had the experience of being gay and facing homophobic violence himself. Aside from the fact that the terrorist’s own father wrote that his son was homophobic and not motivated by religious ideology, this massacre was not about killing people because they were enjoying a night out. It was the targeting of a particular group – LGBT people – in a long history of lack of recognition, abuse, denial, imprisonment and and murder. You only have to look at twitter to witness the vile homophobia that persists in every country including our own. Citizens of our country are hated by homophobes for something that is integral to their identity.  LGBT people do not need to be reminded that violent homophobia is something they experience on a daily basis, so they would surely understand Orlando without a pause and perhaps have their grief for others mixed with painful memories of their own struggles.

Imagine being both gay and Muslim, contending with both that pain but also the Islamophobic backlash that this kind of massacre generates (Beydown and Mack write about this eloquently). If we don't use our imagination, and recognise the nature of evil, then how can it be challenged? I apologise, Owen Jones, that it took me a moment to see this hateful homophobic massacre for what it is.