In the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, both Republican and Democratic politicians took to Twitter to express their condolences. Because the massacre appears to have targeted sexual minorities, this created a somewhat surreal effect: The sight of GOP politicians—some of the same ones who have devoted much of their careers fighting to deprive gays of their civil rights—sympathizing with the very people whom they have long bashed in a bid for conservative votes. Consider Sen. Marco Rubio:
Our prayers are with those injured and killed early this morning in horrifying act of terror in Orlando.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 12, 2016
Rubio is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage and would like to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming gay people’s constitutional right to wed. Worse, when Rubio served as Florida’s House majority leader, the state’s foster care system was in a crisis: Due to a severe lack of foster parents, children were essentially being imprisoned in inhumane conditions. One possible solution would be to lift Florida’s ban on allowing gay people to foster children. Rubio rejected the idea. “Some of these kids are the most disadvantaged in the state,” he explained. “They shouldn't be forced to be part of a social experiment.”
Even more surreally, see former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee:
Please join Janet and me in praying for the victims of the Orlando attack and their families.— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) June 12, 2016
But if it were up to Huckabee, gay people would not be legally permitted to start their own families. Huckabee staunchly opposes same-sex marriage, civil unions, and gay adoption. In explaining his opposition to gay adoption in particular, he declared, “Children are not puppies. This is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out, how does this work?” At various points in his career, Huckabee has also said that AIDS patients should be quarantined; that homosexuality is a “lifestyle” similar to drinking alcohol; and that legalizing same-sex marriage is analogous to legalizing incest and drug use. When the Supreme Court invalidated a federal same-sex marriage ban, Huckabee tweeted: “Jesus wept.”
There are many more examples of aggressively anti-gay politicians tweeting about the Pulse shooting, but one common thread ties them together: None of them mention that the shooting targeted, or even involved, the LGBTQ community. Indeed, not a single congressional Republican who tweeted about the shooting mentioned LGBTQ people. That stands in stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s clear assertion that “shooter targeted a nightclub” where “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people ... came together to be with friends, to dance, sing, and live,” and “to raise awareness and speak their minds and advocate for their civil rights.”
Republicans’ silence is actually quite apt. As a party, after all, the GOP has spent decades attempting to degrade sexual minorities and even drive them out of public life. It is altogether fitting, then, that conservative politicians are erasing LGBTQ people from their own tragedy. The gesture of support, I suppose, is basically benevolent. But let’s be clear about this: The 50 victims of Orlando’s LGBTQ nightclub massacre died as full and equal citizens under the law in spite of the Republican party’s best efforts to relegate them to second-class citizenship.