On June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old lone gunman ended the lives of 49 mainly Latino people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Omar Mateen also wounded 59 other people during the Orlando nightclub shooting. Police shot the killer dead following a three-hour stand-off.
The Orlando nightclub shooting extracted a terrible toll — the worst incident of mass murder against LGBTIQ+ people in US history. The radicalised Muslim’s murderous rampage also remains one of the deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in US history.
The incident deeply affected LGBTIQ+ people worldwide. Vulnerable and marginalised communities felt threatened in their community safe spaces. Throughout modern history, gay bars provided our communities with space to be themselves. Now, one hate-filled man had snatched away that sense of freedom.
Because of the long history of hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ communities and venues, and the well-known intolerance of many Islamic regimes and religious leaders, most people initially assumed Omar Mateen targeted Pulse because of the sexuality of the club’s patrons. However, later investigations indicated the choice was probably random. After googling ‘downtown Orlando nightclubs’, the gunmen went between two clubs before making a last-minute decision to attack Pulse. He did not, according to witnesses, use any homophobic slurs during the killings.
Omar Mateen’s sexuality
In the days after the Orlando nightclub shooting, various witnesses claimed that Omar Mateen was a closeted gay man. One man said he went to gay bars with him and others claimed they saw him in Pulse previously. Witnesses came forward to allege Mateen regularly communicated with gay men on hookup apps. One man even claimed a two-month sexual relationship with the gunmen. However, FBI investigators found no photographs, text messages, smartphone apps, pornography, or cell tower location data to back up those allegations. The investigators described the witnesses as ‘mistaken’. Police did find evidence Mateen cheated on his wife with another woman.
During his three hours inside Pulse, Mateen made phone calls to 911 and a local news channel. He told both he was carrying out the shooting on behalf of Muslom terrorist groups. Investigators later found nothing to link him to the groups and assumed he was radicalised over the internet.
However, he obviously craved fame — he searched the internet for references to the shooting during the stand-off with police.
In the aftermath of the shootings, many Orlando locals rushed to donate urgently needed blood. However, gay men found themselves unable to contribute. An FDA ruling disallows donations from men who had sex with men in the previous twelve months. Islamic organisations urged local Muslims to break their Ramadan fast in order to donate blood for the victims of the shooting.
Then US Vice President Joe Biden released a statement the morning following the attack.
Gathering to celebrate love and life
“Last night, at least fifty innocent people gathering to celebrate love and life were brutally killed in an act of pure hate and unspeakable terror. Scores of others were injured in the attack. They were our brothers and our sisters; our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. In the coming days, we will learn more about these fifty souls and the lives they lived and the world they made better.
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