Don't let terror divide LGBTQ, Muslim communities

Story highlights

  • 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured in a shooting in Orlando
  • Sahar Aziz: Muslims, LGBTQ community should stand together in wake of attack

Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law and nonresident fellow at Brookings Doha Center. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)When you are a member of a minority group, your identity almost inevitably shapes your initial response to news of a violent crime. For Muslims, it is often "please don't let it have been a Muslim who did this." For members of the LGBTQ community, it is dread that the victim may have been targeted for his or her sexual orientation. So when news broke of the horrific mass shooting at a club in Orlando, two communities watched their worst fears come true.

The attack by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, a Muslim American, claimed the lives of 49 people, and injured more than 50 others. The majority of the victims were from the LGBTQ community, and were predominantly Latino.
    Such tragedies -- and the national response -- test our values.
    Sahar Aziz
    The reality is that attacks like the one Sunday, where the perpetrator is Muslim, can trigger a national hysteria about the terrorist threat, unleashing a civil rights backlash against one of America's most suspected minority groups.
    And when the attack involves harm being committed by one minority against another, it raises additional questions. Chief among them is whether this tragedy will turn a vulnerable minority community against another to perpetuate their mutual subordination? Or will it unite us in recognizing that Muslim, Latino and LGBTQ communities (and their allies) must work together to address structural inequalities in our society?
    Sadly, both communities still face significant discrimination, a point that is often overlooked when the debate shifts to national security. Homophobic attacks, for example, often go unreported. This is despite the chilling sense of insecurity they inflict on the LGBTQ community, which is disproportionately targeted in hate crimes -- the FBI reported that almost 20% of hate crimes in 2014 (the most recent figures available) were based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
    Yet rather than engage in a national conversation about the troubling anti-gay backlash to the Supreme Court's legalization of same sex marriage, many are exploiting the tragedy to defame Islam -- focusing on anti-gay activities by dictators in Muslim-majority countries, rather than hate crimes committed right here in America.
    Tellingly, some politicians have been silent on the broader issue of LGBTQ hate crimes when reacting to the events in Orlando, instead choosing to exaggerate America's problem with so-called "radical Islam."
    Such a refusal to wrestle with the discrimination and fear that the LGBTQ community must confront every day resulted in dozens of Republican lawmakers voting against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, legislation that added "perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities as protected classes under existing federal hate crimes law."
    Instead, predictably, the mass shooting in Orlando has reignited demands to ban, deport and surveil Muslims en mass. Meanwhile, there is little mention of the unique forms of discrimination faced by those at the intersection of religious, race and sexual orientation identities.
    Too often, Muslims are reflexively thought of by many as heterosexual and Middle Eastern, LGBTQ communities as white and Latino communities as Catholic and heterosexual. To the contrary, each of these groups is diverse and composed of millions of individuals with differing views on a wide range of topics.
    To homogenize and even pit minorities against each other only perpetuates their structural subordination. It also continues a troubling American tradition wherein minority groups internalize their oppression by oppressing other vulnerable minorities, something we witnessed in the past when some Irish-American Catholics engaged in anti-Semitism despite themselves being subjected to anti-Catholic bias by Protestants.
    Similarly, racial tensions between Asian and black communities have impeded joint communal efforts to counter anti-black and anti-Asian racism. In Baltimore, for example, legitimate frustration from systemic police brutality against African-Americans was misdirected when Asian owned businesses were looted by a handful of individuals.
    Such inter-community strife reinforces the multiple "isms" that threaten our democracy much more than any single terrorist act.
    But despite these tensions -- too often inflamed by politicians and the media -- the aftermath of the Orlando shooting has offered some signs of hope. For example, Muslim communities' statements of solidarity with LGBTQ communities after the massacre are one sign of progress, as is the noting from LGBTQ's community leaders of the support of Muslims.
    If LGBTQ leaders can continue to rebuke hateful anti-Muslim responses, they will be demonstrating a profound understanding of how prejudice threatens all minority communities in the long run.
    As we mourn the murder of 49 human beings, it is essential that we do not allow this tragedy to drive a wedge between the Muslim, LGBTQ and Latino communities.
    Instead, these subordinated communities and their allies should seize this moment to work together to stop hate and violence -- whomever it targets. Failing to do so grants the terrorists what they want -- a divisive and divided society that turns against itself.