OPINION: Was media coverage of Orlando shooting homophobia by omission?

Owen Jones ANL-151201-154602001
Owen Jones ANL-151201-154602001

The mass slaughter of 49 people at an LGBT club by a lone gunman in Orlando has stirred many emotions.

For me there was the obvious horror and heartbreak but as media outlets staked their respective corners, a half expected anxiety took hold.

Yes this was an act of terror but why were some omitting to call this what I felt it blindingly obviously was – a homophobic hate crime.

Like many gay men and women I have been on the receiving end of homophobic bigotry – the scars have made me question how I should present myself in public (mannerisms and how much to reveal about my personal life) but ultimately have strengthened my resilience.

So initially I thought I was being overly sensitive based on past experiences but then journalist Owen Jones walked out of a Sky TV debate over this very issue.

You can watch his exit on YouTube and make up your own mind as to whether he was right to do so.

But for me, he gave voice to an uneasiness about how certain quarters of the media have treated this massacre.

Mr Jones, who is gay, took issue with the presenter who said this was an attack ‘against human beings’ and the ‘freedom of all people to try to enjoy themselves’ rather than specifically against the LGBT.

“He not only refused to accept it as an attack on LGBT people, but was increasingly agitated that I – as a gay man – would claim it as such,” said Mr Jones in his column for The Guardian.

Cut to The Daily Mail which didn’t bother to place one of the worst mass killings of LGBT people since the Holocaust on its front page – instead favouring a story ‘Fury over plot to let 1.5m Turks into Britain’.

The question though is why? Was this homophobia by omission? A reluctance to speak of or to the LGBT community which some in society are still deeply uncomfortable with?

I do not know the answer. The massacre seems to stem from a complicated melting pot of motivations – extremism, hatred and homophobia.

It could be argued, judging by the latest reports that the gunman was a regular at the club and messaged several people on gay dating apps, he was dealing with his own internalised homophobia.

What I do know is my own experiences in my short life and how far we’ve come , yet how far we’ve yet to travel to full equality and acceptance.

We have lived through the odious Section 28 which banned local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality or the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. This was introduced by Thatcher at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1988 and only repealed in 2003.

The majority of MPs voted in favour of gay marriage but many opposed it. It is also illegal to be gay in more than 70 countries.

I wish I could have joined the thousands who gathered in Old Compton Street on Monday night in memory of those killed.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this – to remember them and remember that the struggle against homophobia (in all its forms) is not over.