Opinion » Note

Fear Itself

In reaction to the mass shooting in Orlando

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Processing yet another instance of public horror—this time the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.—has led to the same litany of explanations that have become a dirge in our national conversation: access to assault weapons, lack of access to mental health care, terrorism, Islamic extremism, hate.

That more than 100 members of the LGBT community were killed or injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history is a mind-bending tragedy that can be laid at the feet of the killer. That they were targeted because they were members of the LGBT community is a tragedy that weak-willed politicians, demagogues and bigots must be made accountable for.

Whether Omar Mateen was a homophobe, a sympathizer with the so-called Islamic State terrorist group or suffering a mental health crisis, that he chose the Pulse nightclub—where he was said to have been a regular guest—to commit his murders makes it an assault on a community that is assaulted in some way every day.

The LGBT community is assaulted by retrograde lawmakers such as we have in Idaho, whose refusal to even consider adding the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights laws has gone from absurd to mean-spirited.

The community is assaulted by religious leaders whose denunciations of what they call a "lifestyle" and a "choice" should disqualify them from any claim to moral authority. The assaults are physical, as with the killing of Steven Nelson, and verbal, coming from bigots who can't go to the bathroom without being afraid they may share the space with a transgender person.

What unites these assaults is fear, and generalized anxiety has become a sickness of the soul being fed from all sides. We fear the government, we fear immigrants, we fear youths in our cities, we fear those with differing opinions. Fear animates the presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party and it trickles down to the poisonous vitriol that has become the language of the Internet. What's worse, we've weaponized these emotions.

Fear has become our national pastime and it may be our epitaph unless we have a come-to-humanity moment. Hopefully, in this season of Pride, we will.