Motlatsi Motseoile
Motlatsi Motseoile

Je suis Orlando, then je suis KwaThema

If indeed we are one with the victims of the Orlando shooting, then surely we ought to be one with the victims of various violations and victimisation in our own communities. Or not? Since Sunday I have tried to get a sense of what this attack was about. Was it about a terrorist act, or an American homophobe, was it about a closeted gay man who could never accept himself, or was it a random mass murder caused by mental illness, social anxiety and a variety of other issues linked to mental illness? These are questions I have asked myself and I remain without answers to.

On the other hand I ask if it should be any of these issues, what role have social and political structures played in aiding the attack. How many times have we, as members of society kept quiet when violence erupted against a member of our community? How many times have we said “it’s a lover’s quarrel” when we hear a woman being beaten by her partner? How many times have we discouraged wives from reporting their husbands to the police on charges of domestic violence? Are we not just as guilty of this heinous crime as the man who pulled the trigger and killed many innocent people?

A woman holds up a sign and listens to speakers at a memorial gathering for those killed in Orlando at the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo on June 14, 2016. (Erika Santelices/AFP)

A woman holds up a sign and listens to speakers at a memorial gathering for those killed in Orlando at the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo on June 14, 2016. (Erika Santelices/AFP)

There is this misguided idea that the only people hurt in the attack were LGBTI (largely gay men) when in fact, mothers, sisters, friends of those LGBTI people were in there and also shot, wounded and killed. The violence perpetrated against a largely LGBTI group, also binds those who are not LGBTI. Therefore this killing, one that terrified LGBTI people across the globe like me, is a death in a community, a community that is made up of LGBTI people, our friends, family and colleagues. Does this urge you to react, to wonder, when you think that as a non-LGBTI person, you are directly affected by violence against this “select” group? Is that how we need to speak, before our rights and freedoms are protected and become matters of your interest and importance?

Does it not matter that innocent lives were taken? Does it not matter to police officers, prosecutors and others in the legislative and justice value chain, including local politicians? As the international community rallies behind the community of Orlando, aggrieved, hurt and shaken, I wonder if our people, the people I have mentioned are not worried and questioning themselves of their own reactions to violence against LGBTI people in our country. Does it not worry them that they could easily deal with a situation such as this and they could have these questions the whole world is dealing with right now?

Do our legislators who have dragged their feet on hate crime-specific legislation not worry about dealing with the murders of LGBTI people? Perhaps they don’t, because a number of cases are being viewed as lone cases and random acts of violence and not seen as violence inspired by hate, hate of the sexual and gender identity of law-abiding citizens whose rights and freedoms ought to be protected. The names of lesbian women, transgender men and women, gay men, black and white LGBTI people – most of who are on the wrong side of the economy – are just numbers and not humans whose lives were taken senselessly and whose memory is halted in the hands of hateful criminals, who as it stands, the state has no desire to bring to book.

I ask, are we one with Orlando?

Because if we are, then we have to have been one with KwaThema, we have to have been one with Thohoyandou, we have to have been one with Sedibeng, we have to have been one with Kuruman and we certainly have to be one with Wolseley. If we speak the names of Eddie Justice, Akyra Murray, Edward Sotomayor and Luis Vielma, then we ought to speak the names of Motshidisi Pascalina, Phoebe Titus, Bobby Motlatla, Thapelo Makutle and Eudy Simelane. Our empathy, ought not to be conditional, and should inspire us to push for legislation that protects LGBTI people, to push for better policing and prosecution.

As you pray for Orlando, please pray for us, those of us who are in your community.

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