In the past 48 hours, we’ve received many communications expressing sadness and deep concern about the Orlando massacre. Most heartrending was the voice of Farid, a gay refugee from Iraq who escaped barbaric homophobia at home in search of peace of mind in America. Understandably, he is terrified. After giving up everything he knew to taste freedom, he didn’t imagine he’d witness this heinous hate crime in his beloved new country. He has stared the likes of ISIL with his own eyes, and he understands that fanatical homophobia knows no tolerance.
Predictably, some have zealously seized the terror of Orlando for xenophobic political gain. Most troubling are those calling to block all immigration by Muslims and even all refugee admissions. While such a restriction may condemn a gay refugee like Farid to perpetual persecution, it will do nothing to keep America safe. This is because like the would-be terrorist who intended to massacre participants at Los Angeles Pride, Omar Mateen was born, raised and schooled in the United States, where home-grown homophobic hate crimes are rampant. In an environment where serious mental conditions like Omar Mateen’s are often untreated and where assault weapons are readily available, it’s a miracle that we haven’t experienced more bloody hate crimes of this kind.
So is refugee immigration at fault for the Orlando massacre? Definitely not! Does this mean that we who support refugees and immigrants can continue business as usual? Also not!! On the contrary, we must act now to inform, educate and sensitize Americans and newcomers alike. This includes Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths, cultures and national backgrounds. Homophobic hatred is not limited to any single religion or creed.
We know that many refugees come from countries where attitudes toward sexual and gender diversity are negative. We also know that across the U.S., LGBTs, refugees and other migrants live in close urban proximity to one another, and that many immigrants are themselves LGBT.
We must develop comprehensive culturally-competent and deeply respectful programs to educate and sensitize immigrants and refugees, among all those who share the American homeland, on sexual and gender diversity. At the same time, we can do a lot to foster meaningful dialogue and interaction between LGBT and immigrant communities.
None of this will bring the fallen of Orlando back to life or magically mend the torn hearts of their families. But it will go a long way to assure that Americans of all backgrounds can live safely in the United States. Not least of all Farid, whose loyalty to America is greater than any killer’s hatred.
Wishing us all a safe and free Pride Month!