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Creating an anti-LGBTQ climate: The Orlando shooting and West Michigan connections

June 14, 2016

The tragedy and injustice of what took place in Orlando, Florida over the weekend is almost too difficult to write about. What does one do in the face of such hate and violence?Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.03.40 AM

The news media has already done tremendous harm in how they are framing the issue. It’s either about guns, the identity of the shooter or it is about the outpouring support that is being demonstrated all across the country and the world.

What the news media is not doing is offering much substantive analysis of why this happened, and more importantly, the historical context for this kind of repression against a marginalized population. One of the best things I have seen so far is this amazing video, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, which gives critical voice to queer and trans people of color. The video is also powerful, because it properly frames the Orlando shooting in an historical context. 

Creating a homophobic, transphobic climate

As the voices in the Trans and Queer Liberation Movement make clear, this violence has been going on for centuries and is properly named in the video as White Supremacy. White Supremacy is too often ignored, downplayed or denied as a major factor in the current level of violence and repression that communities of color face.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.07.23 AM

White Supremacy takes on many forms, such as an economic, legislative, religious and cultural form. All of these dynamics play a role in creating, maintaining and normalizing the violence and repression that so many people of color face. Add to this, queer and trans people of color and the level of systemic and structural violence increases exponentially.

For instance, many people in the case of the Orlando shooting, are grateful for the role that law enforcement plays. However, what communities of color and what queer and trans people of color have understood for a long time, is that the use of state violence is a false solution

This brings us to some of the larger context of what has been happening in Orlando and throughout the state of Florida, in terms of creating a climate of hate against those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Let’s be clear that this kind of hate is happening everywhere, but for the purposes of the article, let’s just focus on Florida.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, identifies three main anti-LGBTQ groups operating in Florida; the American College of Pediatricians, Liberty Counsel and Dr. James Kennedy Ministries.

The American College of Pediatricians has only been around since 2002 and is essentially a hate group that targets transgender youth.

The Liberty Counsel, which is based in Orlando, has been around since 1989 and plays a more integral part of the religious rights ongoing war against the LGBTQ community. The founder of Liberty Counsel, Matthew Staver, came from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The organization works closely with other religious right groups, such as Dr. James Dobson’s group, Focus on the Family, committed to blocking the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Liberty Counsel is also the former home of Matt Barber, the viciously anti-gay pundit who now runs a right-wing propaganda site, BarbWire. Matthew Staver, the organization’s founder, once compared pro-equality Republicans and those who don’t share social conservatives’ priorities to cockroaches.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.02.15 AM

Recently, Staver’s wife, Anita, announced that she would start carrying her Glock .45 into the bathroom in response to Target saying it would not discriminate against transgender customers.

Liberty Counsel is an aggressively anti-gay organization, praising repressive anti-gay legislation in other countries and arguing that it is immoral for the U.S. government to encourage other countries to decriminalize homosexuality. Liberty Counsel also represents the rabidly anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who has campaigned against legal equality for LGBT people in the U.S. and around the globe.

The other major anti-LGBTQ entity in Florida, is Dr. James Kennedy Ministries, formerly known as Truth in Action and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Kennedy has been dead since 2007, but he has been one of the most anti-LGBTQ pastors for decades. Kennedy had organized a national conference for the religious rights for years called, “Reclaiming America for Christ.”

One newsletter from D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries featured a photograph of very young children under the headline “SEX WITH CHILDREN? HOMOSEXUALS SAY YES!” The newsletter asserts “Adult sex with children has been a crucial component of the homosexual movement all along, and officially since the 1993 March on Washington when it was included as a demand (#55) in their famous manifesto.” 

Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry. He recommended as “essential” the virulent work of R.J. Rushdoony, who believed practicing gays should be executed

The West Michigan Connection

Considering the strong religious right presence in West Michigan, it should come as no surprise that people like Richard DeVos have been a major donors to anti-LGBTQ groups in Florida.

In 2008, the DeVos family was the largest contributor to the Florida4Marriage group, which put Amendment 2 on the ballot calling for marriage between only a man and a woman. The Amendment passed in 2008 and outlawed same sex marriages in Florida until that decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court decision last year.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 10.51.51 AM

In addition, the DeVos family owns the Orlando Magic basketball team, which has allowed the arena to be used for Evangelical Christian Faith Nights. These Christian rallies have also provided a platform for anti-LGBTQ organizing in Orlando. (See Bad Sports, by Dave Zirin)

Fore more than three decades, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kennedy’s ministry on an annual basis. Although the DeVos family no longer contributes to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, the millions of dollars they have donates over the years to anti-LGBTQ groups in Florida played a significant role in creating a climate that legitimized and normalized violence and hate directed at the LGBTQ community.

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