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  • Refusing Queer Violence
  • Karma R. Chávez (bio)

When I woke to the news of Omar Mateen, killing 49 and injuring more than 50 people dancing at Latin Night at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, I felt immediate and complex anguish. The media instantly speculated about Mateen’s “jihadist” tendencies and connections to Islamic extremism. ISIS sympathizers reportedly tweeted in support of the gunman and against the LGBTQ community. The gunman’s father stated that this wasn’t about his religion, but that his son became very angry after seeing two men kissing in Miami some time ago. This massacre, in the middle of LGBT Pride month, and amid an increasingly anti-Muslim climate in the United States, thanks to the likes of Donald Trump (among others), is complicated. But it is imperative that we talk about what violence like this means for our thinking about queer politics and racial justice in our communities.

This atrocity in Orlando would seem to have little to do with national conversations about anti-black racism; after all, the mass murderer was Arab American, and the victims, were largely queer, non-black Latinx folks. But what this event raises for us are the many tensions among and between communities of color, in this case Arabs, always imagined as heterosexual if not fiercely heteronormative, and queer communities, often blanketed as white and U.S. citizens. In the era of gay rights, this means, as Jin Haritaworn puts it, that “[predominately white] queer lovers” are always pitted against “[brown and black] hateful others.”1

In other words, especially in moments like this, many will suggest (and have already suggested) that homophobia and transphobia are worse in communities of color, in particular black and Muslim communities, and the supposed pervasiveness of those views serves as a justification to target those communities in [End Page 160] a variety of ways: to chastise them, police them, sanction them, or in the case of various iterations of the war on terror, to bomb them in the name of gay rights. And it is not just an issue of white versus communities of color; many communities of color turn against each other in times like this one as well. There seems to be little doubt that this gunman acted out of some homophobia. But where does that leave queer people of color, specifically in relation to this violence, queer Arabs and Muslims?

Queer Arabs and South Asians have continued to address the problems with homophobia and transphobia in their own communities, as have other queer people of color.2 These same activists and thinkers have also vigorously defended their communities against the racism and xenophobia targeting them in the name of LGBTQ rights. These thinkers refuse to let the problems in their communities serve as justification for more violence against them, which ends up having some of the worst impacts on queer people in those same communities, who are then further ostracized and made vulnerable to violence.

This awful tragedy and the way it will be taken up on the left and the right to justify various kinds of actions, from banning Muslims, to gun regulations, to hate crime laws, to support for the LGBTQ community has everything to do with how we need to be thinking more deeply about the complicated relationships between race and queerness. For me, a key question we need to ask is: in the face of violence against queer people of all races, but especially people of color, perpetrated by a person or people of color, how do we refuse to participate in additional forms of systemic and interpersonal violence? This question is key because when queer people’s suffering is taken up by powerful state institutions like police forces, the legal system or the entire U.S. government as a rationale for action, we want to be sure that what happens in our names does not also cause human suffering.

Let me turn to another example to illustrate my point. In 2008, when Californians approved Proposition 8, which prevented same-sex couples from being able to describe their relationships as marriage (though they had all the same state benefits through domestic partnership), many in the LGBTQ...


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pp. 160-163
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