U.S. Politics and the Economy

Orlando Massacre

We must not let the Orlando nightclub terror further strangle our civil liberties

By Chelsea E. Manning

This morning, I woke up in my cell to an even more shattered and fractured world. We are lost. We are devastated. We are bewildered. We are hurt. And we are angry. I haven’t been this angry since losing a soldier in my unit to an RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade) attack in southeastern Baghdad during my deployment in Iraq in 2010.

As a young queer kid growing up, I explored my identity through the Chicago and Washington, DC club scene. As many have said, the club is our sanctuary—a place where we find ourselves, love ourselves and find community. I can totally relate to the trauma that has afflicted our community in the wake of the shooting in Orlando.

We must grieve and mourn and support each other, but in our grief and outrage we must resist any temptations to let this attack—or any attack—trigger anti-Muslim foreign policy, attacks on our civil liberties, or as an excuse to descend into xenophobia and Islamophobia.

However, an attack like this is carefully planned and executed to maximize attention by inflaming the passions of a helpless public. Because of this, the response can be more dangerous than the attack. The refrains of “safety and security” have, for many years, been used as a tool by the powerful to justify curtailing civil liberties and emboldening backlash against immigrants, Muslim people and others.

Those who wish to continue campaigns of fear are prepared to cast an entire religion as hateful with no reflection on their own complicity in the many forms of violence the queer community encounters in the United States. We should not let their agendas guide our reaction to this senseless massacre.

We’re not sure yet what schemes might be proposed over the next few days and weeks, but we have seen how politicians have used our fear to compromise our constitution many times in the past, from extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) to enhanced interrogation (torture), from foreign intelligence surveillance courts to encryption backdoors.

Some will claim extreme measures are necessary to protect the queer and trans community. Others will erase the queer and Latin identities of the victims and instead claim that we are at war with Islam. But regardless of how the narrative is told, such policies will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our community at home and abroad.

Current proposals for hate crime laws and terrorism enhancements only take more power away from our community. We consolidate power with law enforcement only to have those same mechanisms turned against us. For example, more intense scrutiny on verification procedures in government and business have created barriers for trans people seeking documents that correctly identify their gender, causing us to be subjected to abusive and humiliating searches when traveling. Any increase in surveillance of marginalized communities for the sake of security have expanded the cycle of criminalization that queer people—especially queer people of color—are forced to navigate.

Obama says it appears Omar Mateen was inspired by extremist information spread over the internet but there’s no evidence he was directed from abroad

Earlier this year, the FBI sought a novel judicial backdoor to a cellphone in response to the San Bernardino attack. Such a backdoor would have potentially allowed the government to more easily target queer and trans people as well as human rights campaigners, environmentalists and anti-corporate protestors as “threats and criminals.”

In response to leaks and mass attacks on military bases, the FBI also sought to stifle potential whistleblowers. This Insider Threat program used my gender identity, psychological profile and history as a basis for their targeting. “Safety and security” has even been used as a justification to place a two-inch limit on the length of my hair.

We are not safe and secure when the government uses us as pawns to perpetrate violence against others. Our safety and security will come when we organize, love and resist together.

We should remember that we are alive. We are real flesh and blood. Apart from the fact that we are increasingly disconnected from the world by technology and politics, we are still surviving as a community.

And even though we have come a long way, events like these remind us we still have a long way to go. Thoughts and prayers alone won’t protect our community. We need to continue to build and support queer and trans communities and end the profiling and criminalization that so many face.

We find solace and sanctuary in the club because we are so often expelled from other public spaces—from bathrooms, from street corners, from jobs, from history. Our survival is our resistance. And our solidarity and support for the Muslim community in these coming days and months—some of whom are queer and trans—will lift us all up in the face of anyone seeking to further marginalize another.

The Guardian, June 13, 2016

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