Omar Mateen, the man who carried out a hate crime that became the largest mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay bar in Orlando, FL on Sunday morning has been called many things. He has been labeled as a criminal, a terrorist, a murderer and very wrongfully as an example of why Muslims must be feared. However, as many have pointed out, this final claim is a gross generalization. In absolutely no way does Mateen represent the Muslim community.
His actions do not reflect upon the millions of people who are part of the Islamic faith. His crime does not bear the sentiment of people who happen to share the same religion. The shooting represents homophobia. For all of the things that Mateen is, his actions on Sunday night do not represent the many other demographics that he is a part of. He does not stand for the beliefs or actions of all American-born people, all men, all 29 year-olds or all fathers. What Mateen represents is a culture built on fear and hatred. What his actions represent are homophobia.
The tragedy in Orlando has made the struggles that the LGBTQ community shockingly, painfully and horrifically clear. It has shown in a heartless and destructive way the hatred that our queer friends and family face for choosing to love who they love, and freely be the people that they truly are. It is tragic that it took a disaster of this magnitude to open our nation's eyes to the inequality and fear that the LGBTQ community lives with. However, what is more tragic is that many people are responding to this cry for solidarity and love with prejudice and division.
By generalizing Mateen's actions, we are feeding the same vicious and ignorant cycle that led to the Orlando Massacre. Now is not the time for Islamaphobia. While it is certainly easier for our nation to hate and blame a religious group which we have been taught to view with contempt and fear, if we truly want to heal and bring about positive change we must do the more difficult and right thing.
We must look at our culture and the way we think. Homophobia and Islamaphobia are built on the same foundations- a hatred and fear towards those that deviate from what is considered normal. Rather than mislabel the tragedy in Orlando, making it into someone else's problem we must begin to fight for a culture that respects and appreciates those who are different.
We must create an environment that stops judging people based on where they are from, who they worship and for all that is reasonable and good, who they choose to love. We have to start seeing each other and loving one another - human to human, with no prerequisites.