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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Vanessa Lopez-Littleton
June 17, 2016
In the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, one lone gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 others in a venue, frequented by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. President Barack Obama said the killer is thought to be a self-radicalized, homegrown extremist. This attack was on the American people and the LGBT community. For justice to prevail, policymakers will need to address gun violence and LGBT rights.
The prompt response by politicians revealed much of the same. The left renewing the call for effective gun control measures. The right criticizing the Obama administration’s refusal to use “radical Islamic terrorism” while continuing to denounce any action viewed as attack on Second Amendment rights.
Discussions about gun control often seem inappropriate after a tragedy such as this. While some may resent politicizing terror attacks, others seize the momentum and political will to get things done. In today’s contentious political climate, this act of terrorism sheds light on three important issues: gun violence, LGBT issues and domestic terrorism. Fueled by fear, homophobia and Islamophobia, each of these topics waxes and wanes from public consciousness in the aftermath of a tragic event. The ability to create meaningful reform continues to elude policymakers.
Each year, more than 32,000 people are killed and 60,000 injured by firearms. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers gun violence a threat to public health, the agency does not support gun violence research. All gun violence research was stopped after the passage of the Dickey Amendment, an add-on to a 1996 appropriations bill, which prevents the agency from engaging in any effort to “advocate or support gun control.” Despite countless appeals and objections to the interpretation of the amendment, the agency’s leadership has consistently rejected any appeal for support for research on gun violence. Fear that gun violence research may directly or indirectly support an increase in gun control regulations prevents the CDC from studying any aspect of a known public health threat.
In his speech to the nation, President Barack Obama called the mass killing an “act of terror and an act of hate.” Because the attack occurred during pride month—an important event in the gay liberation movement— it brings focus to the persistence of homophobia and transphobia in American society and abroad.
It is an unfortunate reality that for many in the LGBT community, violence and the fear of violence are common. According to the FBI, in 2014, 18.6 percent of all “single-bias” hate crimes were attributed to sexual orientation. However, these crimes are often underreported, so the true insult may never be fully known. In 2015—the deadliest year on record—21 transgender people were murdered, most of them were women of color.
Lastly, we need effective anti-terrorism policies to keep America safe from domestic terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism. We cannot allow Islamophobia to cloud our ability to assess and respond to any threat or act. We cannot let the terrorists win by creating policies that destroy the fabric of who we are as a nation. We should not use scare tactics under the auspices of keeping America safe.
We must work on effectively integrating cross-cultural awareness into our systems of practice. We must develop strategies to bridge economic, cultural and social divides. We must develop systematic approaches to understanding and rejecting unconscious bias, microaggressions, racism and discrimination.
As Americans, we can’t let fear win but we must do more to keep our country safe.
Author: Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, Ph.D., RN, is an assistant professor in the department of health, human services and public policy at California State University, Monterey Bay. Her research focuses on social equity, cultural competence, and racial and ethnic health disparities.
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