Comment: The Orlando massacre confirms my worst fears about being gay 5 years ago

Comment: The Orlando massacre confirms my worst fears about being gay

I'll turn 35 in two weeks. And in my 35 years on earth, I've held hands with another man in public just twice.

That lack of public displays of affection isn't (just) down to lack of opportunity.


There have been plenty of times over the 13 years I've been out as a gay man, where I was out and about in public with a guy I was seeing, both of us walking with our hands awkwardly shoved in our pockets, or fiddling with our phones, just so we don't have to acknowledge that, although we were dating and cared for each other, we were both avoiding an act that so many heterosexual couples do without even thinking about: holding hands.

The two occasions I have held hands in public with another man have been tinged with a profound self-consciousness that made us both anxious and uncomfortable.


What's the reason for this? Embarrassment? Maybe it was at one point when I was much younger, when I hadn't entirely accepted my sexuality, or grown comfortable in my own skin.

No, the real reason is something else, which I was painfully reminded of yesterday while watching and reading about the unfolding, catastrophic horror in Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

It's due to fear.


Fear of people staring.

Fear of being called names.

Fear of having kids shout "queer" and "fag" as you walk past.

Fear that you'll encounter the wrong, irrationally angry person.


Fear that, if you were physically attacked for holding hands, nobody would really give a shit, because it was two gay people doing it, and really, "do they have to shove it in people's faces?"

Fear that, no matter what advances are made in gay rights and mainstream 'acceptance', no matter how many countries legalise same-sex marriage, no matter how many 'allies' come to and march in gay Pride, and no matter how often we're told that homophobia in western society is on the wane, there's always that dark thought lurking at the front of your mind that your status, your presence as a gay person is fragile, dangerous, and constantly threatened by the prejudices and whims of the majority.

Fear that, despite everything that's brought us to this moment in 2016, there's still a deep hatred - conscious and unconscious - of LGBT people.

Fear that, terrifyingly, some people want us dead.


Because make no mistake about it: the massacre at the Pulse nightclub was a terrorist attack, for sure, but it was also, pointedly, an attack on LGBT people.

An attack on LGBT progress.

An attack on a safe space for LGBT people.

An attack on LGBT people for having the audacity to go about their lives.

An attack on LGBT people for kissing in public.

That last one is actually being posited as a key motivation behind Orlando shooter Omar Mateen's deranged actions - he reportedly became deeply offended and upset a few months ago when two gay men dared to kiss in the presence of Mateen and his family.

This isn't, as some online commenters have said (and will no doubt keep saying) a pathetic cry for attention; a persecution-complex-ridden claim for victimhood on the part of LGBT people. Mateen's attack was a deliberate crime against LGBT people, unprecedented in scale since the Holocaust.

To not frame this terrible terrorist attack, either by acts of omission or by fudging the cause, as one that's also - arguably mainly - about poisonous homophobia is just plain wrong.

The Orlando tragedy exposes a lot of fault lines in American life - mainly the country's untenable, unconscionable inability to enact any reasonable gun control law - but it points to a much bigger problem that persists to this day.

Yesterday, some news stations here in the UK kept their live coverage on the pageantry of the Queen's birthday celebrations, even as it was becoming rapidly apparent that the scale of the Orlando story was taking on worldwide relevance.

It makes me wonder if there would be the same reaction to a similar story about a mass shooting at a mall, or a cinema, or a college campus, or even a nightclub that hadn't been identified as a gay venue? What if fans wearing visible England jerseys were deliberately shot in a venue in France during Euro 2016?

Some will no doubt say to me, 'Well, the Queen's birthday was a big deal for the UK, why shouldn't the news channels focus on it?' Yes, it was a big story for the UK, but do you think that it warrants more live coverage, updates and reaction than to the targeted mass murder of LGBT people in a major American city?

I'm writing this as a gay man, on the cusp of his mid-30s, who lives in one of the world's great cities, who has a wonderful life in so many ways. And yet, the sick feeling I've had in my stomach since hearing yesterday's news, about a horrible incident all those thousands of miles away, isn't just attributable to natural human empathy for other people's suffering.

That sick feeling comes from an unshakeable fear that, when it really comes down to it, the wider world sees LGBT people as less than others.

Yes, terrorists and 'lone wolf' gunmen pose a threat to us all. But Orlando wasn't an indiscriminate attack. It was deliberate, and borne of a hateful, prejudiced mindset that, like it or not, still manifests itself in all manner of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in the lives and social, legal and cultural experiences of LGBT people.

I'm almost 35 years of age and I'm still afraid to hold a man's hand in public. Tell me to "get over it" on Twitter or Facebook all you want.

But just know that, by doing so, you're contributing to the problem. What good can - is -  being silent about and denying the very real ingrained fears and anxieties that still exist for LGBT people do?

I'd like to think this won't make me stop wanting to hold a man's hand in public. But as Orlando so tragically proves, it's not my own stopping it that I have to worry about.