On June 12, Orlando, Fla., was the site of the deadliest homophobic attack in recent history.
To call it by any other name would be to erase the reality and the identity of the people who died in Pulse nightclub that night.
These people — young, old, gay, lesbian, straight, transgender and bi — were doing what many probably did every weekend: go out for a dance and drink in a safe place, then head home to sleep off the hangover. This night, however, was the last night for 49 of them. They couldn’t say, “See you in the morning.” Their good night was silenced by the sound of a rifle that spewed hate and spilled their blood.
The pulse of Pulse nightclub stopped that night. But for me, as a black gay man who fled Nigeria for the United Kingdom because I was attacked for my sexuality, the news made my pulse pound harder. It brought me back to a time when I saw Orlando in my everyday life.
One horrific incident occurred in 2006 in the area where I grew up in Nigeria. My friends and I were attending one of the many underground gay parties in Lagos, the former capital and the economic hub of Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world.
The party, like the one in Orlando, was in full swing, but we were aware that in this part of the world our safety was never guaranteed. Halfway through, a group of thugs hijacked the party. We heard the first gunshot, and then beer bottles started flying. Before we could make sense of what was happening, blood was flowing, people were screaming and possessions were being stolen with a violence I had never seen before. I suffered a broken jaw. A friend had a concussion. Two friends walked home barefoot because their shoes were taken off them.
Our underground parties have always been disrupted by hoodlums and homophobes. They see us as easy prey and know that we will never get protection from the police. And in many cases, the attackers are never arrested. Sometimes they are even praised for doing a good job cleansing the society of evil.
Despite the dangers, attending these parties were a way of reaffirming a sense of community and solidarity.
In African countries like Gambia, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe, LGBT people live every day of their lives with the hate and fear that permeated Orlando’s nightclub.
That was why it was painful and insulting when Goodluck Jonathan, the former president of Nigeria, tweeted his condolences to America without acknowledging the sexuality of the victims. But it was even more insulting that a man who signed an Anti-Same Sex Marriage law, which stipulates 14 years imprisonment for entering into a same sex marriage, would offer his prayers to the friends and families of the victims. He himself laid the groundwork for the homophobic law that has ruined many lives and put LGBT people in danger.
What if we moved the Orlando attack out of Florida and situated it in Nigeria, at the same day, same time, with the same number of casualties? The Anti-Same Sex Marriage law says that anyone who provides services for homosexuals could be put in jail for five years. The problem is that the law doesn’t specify what “services” means, so it’s open to interpretation. If we had scores of LGBT people dying — our brothers and sisters — and they needed blood and medical attention, doctors, health care workers and police might say they can’t help because of the law.
It was not just that personal connection that made me feel like I am Orlando, though I live thousands of miles away.
It was the fact that in my view, some politicians and members of the international media underplayed the homophobic nature of the attack. In doing this, they failed to recognize the pain we feel as a community. They cheapened our suffering.
Then there was the possible motivation of a kiss. The father of the Orlando attacker told NBC News that a few months ago, his son grew angry when he saw two men kissing.
Last year, I posted on social media a picture of my fiancé and me kissing at my 40th birthday. I received many death threats from angry people around the world. I became so scared, I had to take down the picture. I felt shaken and unsafe walking around London for a time.
In many parts of the world, heterosexual couples can kiss in public — and most people, especially in Orlando or London, wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But LGBT couples do not have that same right. Trying to do such a thing can be dangerous, even deadly, as we saw in Orlando.
What happened at Pulse is an attack on the LGBT community, which globally has to continually explain, prove and justify why they deserve to have the right to love, live and be happy.
I hope to one day live in a time when a kiss — an act of love between two people — should not evoke such hatred.
Adebisi Alimi is the executive director or the Bisi Alimi Foundation, a TEDx speaker and a 2014 Aspen Institute fellow.