Less than 24-hours after one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history, political opportunists fired up rhetoric that grated our already raw emotions. “If only there were better gun control laws.” “If only less anti-gay rhetoric.” “If only full acceptance of the LGBT community…”. First responders were still working the scene and facts still being gathered while a few claimed certainty as to what was behind the attack.
LGBT advocates, more confident than informed, told major media outlets that social conservatives were at fault for creating a culture that led to the mass shooting. Two Lexington Herald-Leader editorials blamed conservatives. Keith Stewart called it a “specific attack on the LGBT community.” In another piece, transgender activist Tuesday Meadow’s rejected the thoughts and prayers of anyone who didn’t agree with gay marriage or open transgender bathrooms. Dissidents were labeled as haters and “complicit in the mass murder in Orlando.”
The narrative of an anti-gay-inspired assault crumbled on early Tuesday when major media discovered the shooter was actually a patron of the Pulse nightclub and member of the gay community—throwing a wrench into a story whose ink wasn’t yet dry. The 29-year-old American born Muslim called 911 during the attack to pledge support to ISIS, was already prone to violence according to his ex-wife, and perhaps conflicted with the religious beliefs he revered and the life course he charted for himself.
Whatever the case, the narrative that social conservatives are jaded homophobes was undermined by the facts eventually revealed about the killer. It was also undermined by the outreach of Orlando Chick fil-A restaurants—a group harshly criticized and maligned over the years for taking a stand for man/woman marriage. Several opened on Sunday, something they never do, and delivered meals and drinks to first responders who had been at work since early in the morning. Another restaurant team delivered tea and sandwiches to donors waiting in line at emergency blood drives.
Compassion and concern transcended political differences. The outside assistance to emergency workers strengthened community bonds. In such times of crisis nobody checks your political registration or asks about your personal beliefs.
Which brings us to these questions: at what point did it become acceptable for political advocacy to overshadow the dead and their grieving families? Since when did sensibilities of grieving Americans still processing the tragedy become an afterthought? And when did it become OK for LGBT spokespeople and allies to dogmatically insist that social conservatism contributed to this crime?
That homosexuals have felt threatened and suffered marginalization is a shame, but disparaging those who differ with them on policy isn’t fair or helpful. If it continues, the end result will be the creation of a new second-class citizenry cast into society’s purgatory of marginalization where people are colored by suspicion, quickly accused, and all too vulnerable to the diminishing of their own humanity.
If the transgression of social conservatives is fixation on one sexual sin while turning a blind eye to others, then the transgression of moral revolutionaries on the left is to demonize opponents for merely disagreeing with them on policy matters. Too many have been quick to equate disagreement on policy issues with evil intent. People will disagree with one another on important issues. There are also evil people in the world. They are two different categories and they must not be confused. In fact, conflating the two is tantamount to intolerance, cripples civility, and hinders the free exchange of ideas.
A better response as the news was breaking on Sunday would have been to heed the ancient admonition to “weep with those who weep.” It is entirely right for conservatives to stand with LGBT members, extend sympathy and grieve with them. We all do well to respect the families and their space and support the community still hurting. The wounded need our help and our nation needs healing. But in order for both to be accomplished we need to reject the politics of vilification and blame.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a Kentucky based nonprofit public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.