Don’t patronise us with the emptiness of #prayfororlando

Whilst it’s always heartening to have support, Jonathan Boniface explains why, in his view, #prayfororlando is hollow gesture that diverts people from taking real action against hate.


People love hashtags. We use them everyday, sometimes seriously but more often than not with humorous intent. They also have their uses, especially in uniting people in common cause, be it serious or trivial. Whenever a tragedy occurs, however, hashtagging becomes the ideal way of proving to the world that you care and, most importantly, you’re doing something.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to express feelings. On face value, outrage, anger and hurt coming from a wider range of people (and in the case of the Orlando shootings, non LGBTQ+ people) is actually quite comforting – it’s a reminder that even though the world seems to have gone mad, there are decent people out there who care. But the problem with hashtags like #prayfororlando is not that they not only completely miss the mark, but that they’re actually a woefully inadequate response to what is actually a much bigger problem.

This problem was partly summed up last night when Owen Jones walked off Sky News after enduring what can, at best, be described ‘straight mansplaining’ or, to my mind, an almost wilful desire to play down the fact that this was an attack specifically focussed on the LGBTQ+ community. The ramifications of that provide us with not just an article but probably a whole thesis on the psychology of a certain type of straight male, but that’s for another day – thank goodness.

On face value, outrage, anger and hurt coming from a wider range of people (and in the case of the Orlando shootings, non LGBTQ+ people) is actually quite comforting – it’s a reminder that even though the world seems to have gone mad, there are decent people out there who care. But the problem with hashtags like #prayfororlando is not that they not only completely miss the mark, but that they’re actually a woefully inadequate response to what is actually a much bigger problem.

The point is that this was a targeted attack, it was not an indiscriminate attack on a whole range of people irrespective of who or what they were, unlike some recent atrocities that we could name. I have no doubt that there were people in that nightclub who didn’t identify as LGBTQ+ and who were there with friends, but it needs to be remembered that the gunmen went there to specifically target LGBTQ+ people – he didn’t just wander into the first nightclub he found and start murdering people.

Given that, if you feel the need to hashtag your prayers, why are you directing them to Orlando? Perhaps I sound a tiny bit picky, but let me just say again – you would have been safe from this person if you’d been in a straight club that night, or if you’d been holding hands with a member of an obviously opposite gender. Unlike indiscriminate terrorist attacks in other cities in recent times, a specific group of people were targeted, not just people living in the place itself. #prayfororlando actually downplays the very nature of this hate crime.

In addition to that, #prayfororlando is actually a complete copout, and it’s an essentially self-serving reaction that achieves nothing but patronising the LGBTQ+ community. The first thing to consider is who are you actually praying for – is it those who were murdered? Well let’s be blunt, they’re dead – what are prayers going to achieve there?  If not them, is it for those people fighting for their lives in intensive care in Florida hospitals? Okay, forgive my scepticism, but I can’t really see a God who allowed the atrocity to take place in the first place taking much time to intercede on their behalf. Just to illustrate the inherent contraction here, you might want to consider exactly how many of these people were already ‘subject’ to prayers directed toward the Almighty. By this, what I mean is that there are likely to be people lying dead today whose loved ones probably pray for their families to be healthy and safe every night as a matter of routine before they go to sleep. That doesn’t seem to have helped their loves ones here.

You would have been safe from this person if you’d been in a straight club that night, or if you’d been holding hands with a member of an obviously opposite gender. Unlike indiscriminate terrorist attacks in other cities in recent times, a specific group of people were targeted, not just people living in the place itself. #prayfororlando actually downplays the very nature of this hate crime.

#prayfororlando is also an empty gesture because it absolves people of the responsibility to take action to actually deal with the problem, or to help in a meaningful way. Consider the images of people who queued for miles yesterday to answer the call for emergency supplies of blood. I can’t look at those images and fail to be profoundly moved. Now, I accept that many of those people probably did pray for the victims of the atrocity but the important point is that they realised that actual, proper, tangible help comes in the manner of doing something and not spending 5 seconds tapping out a hashtag.

But what about us, the people who don’t live in Orlando? We can’t give blood to help the victims (well, in my case I couldn’t anyway because of a homophobic blood donation policy) so tweeting about our lofty prayers is basically all we can do, right?

You hear that sound? That was the sound of me rolling my eyes so far back into my head that I nearly entered another dimension of reality.

In other words, wrong. What you can do is get off your backside, both literally and metaphorically. Part of the reason why atrocities like this happen is because we as a society tolerate hate, but we wrap it up in so many delicious and wonderful ways in an attempt to excuse it. I’m fortunate enough to experience very little open homophobia in the place where I live, but I wouldn’t walk down the main street of my town holding hands with my partner. This is because society has partly conditioned me to feel like I shouldn’t do that, but it’s also because our society is full not only of people who would have a problem with that, but people who would make excuses for those who take issue with LGBTQ+ people having public shows of affection. I mean, I’m sorry to upset anyone’s notion of this lovely little world where gays and lesbians can get married and everything’s rosy, but even our ostensibly ‘liberal’ society is full of bigots and full of bystanders.

Part of the reason why atrocities like this happen is because we as a society tolerate hate, but we wrap it up in so many delicious and wonderful ways in an attempt to excuse it.

If you’re disgusted by what happened in Orlando, you’d be better off doing something about the problems that exist for LGBTQ+ people in our so-called liberated western society. I’m betting you don’t have to go far to find latent homophobia and direct transphobia but far too often, people do sweet fuck all about it. It’s like the ‘lads’ who ‘banter’ with each other when one of them changes their Facebook profile pic to a shot of them shirtless on holiday and it’s ‘LOL, so gay’. But of course, if you point that out to them you’re a humorless, over-sensitive poof, not just to them but often to others, even your friends. ‘Oh they don’t mean it, it’s just banter. No, they’re not homophobic – you just need to take a joke’. Oh, ok – thanks for clearing that up for me, I’ll just get back into my box now. Transphobia has even more active currency in our society. It’s still a great laugh to make the Caitlin Jenner jokes, isn’t it? Look, I just split my sides at your most recent transphobic quip. There are huge swathes of people in our society who see nothing wrong with this and until people are proactive about tackling that, hate will continue – LGBTQ+ people will continue to verbally harassed, physically attacked and murdered.

What makes me so angry is the fact that so many of these people who feel like they’re ‘right on’ for their #prayfororlando hashtag will do very little about a lot of this. Oh not all, I grant you, but the whole ‘we’re not all like that argument’ is tired and I ain’t got time for it. If you’re not prepared to actively challenge discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, etc, then don’t insult the memory of people who died in that club by using a hashtag to pretend you give a damn. If you’re living in America, you could do that by encouraging people to get their heads out of their backsides about gun control. Hell, if you’re living anywhere, you could do that by doing more to challenge discrimination. Be honest, how many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have witnessed our so-called allies failing to challenging bigotry? I’m guessing a lot.

If you’re not prepared to actively challenge discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, etc, then don’t insult the memory of people who died in that club by using a hashtag to pretend you give a damn.

I have no problem with people using #prayfororlando if it makes them feel better. What I do have problem with is people thinking it’s in any way helpful or effective. It’s not.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter (@gaes_elskhugi)

2 thoughts on “Don’t patronise us with the emptiness of #prayfororlando

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