Faith Communities Need to Combat Violence of All Forms Against LGBTQ People

People hold up candles against a rainbow lit backdrop during a vigil for those killed in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightcl
People hold up candles against a rainbow lit backdrop during a vigil for those killed in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub downtown Monday, June 13, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. A gunman has killed dozens of people in a massacre at a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

As more information becomes available about Omar Mateen and his possible motives for killing 49 people and wounding more than 50 others, the Orlando terror attack and hate massacre has prompted another question: are faith communities doing enough to combat hateful rhetoric and violence against LGBTQ individuals?

Whether Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS or not is irrelevant in the bigger picture as Muslim Americans debate their own community's views on homosexuality. The truth is, while Islamophobia and homophobia are two of the prominent forms of bias and prejudice in contemporary American discourse, there has been a large disconnect between both groups. I've spoken with Muslim leaders, both within my capacity at the Hindu American Foundation and prior to that, about the community's reluctance to discuss homosexuality. Some see it as a line that cannot be crossed, while some couch their compassion in the language that many Evangelical Christians use: "love the sinner, hate the sin." Still, as more progressive Muslim voices become prominent in contemporary discourse, the issue of homophobia within the Muslim American community will become a more central point of discussion.

But rampant and violent homophobia is not limited to one religious community, and it appears Mateen might have resorted to a theological justification for his hatred in order to deal with his own conflicted sexuality. But even as Orlando recovers, and communities of color across the country assess the impact of this latest act of mass gun violence, what faith communities - Muslim, Christian, and others - need to start doing is proactively working to end homophobia and the dehumanization of LGBTQ individuals.

This doesn't mean that faith communities or sects that might have problems with marriage equality based on interpretation of scripture need to transform overnight, but it does require an honest self-assessment among many faith leaders - particularly those whose religious interpretations are more dogmatic - about how they might be dehumanizing homosexuals and transgender individuals through their rhetoric. Even the "love the sinner, hate the sin" justification is unabashedly paternalistic, condescending, and encourages a form of symbolic violence that can have the same type of erasure effects as a hate crime committed by a gun.

To be sure, the violence committed against homosexuals by those who claim to be inspired by Wahabi Islam or a radicalized/distorted rendering of the Quran is a growing problem in other parts of the world. However, in this country, the symbolic violence against homosexuals and transgender individuals - under the premise of a homophobic and intolerant reading of Christianity - can be just as destructive. In several states, the Christian Right has pushed "religious liberty" bills that allow businesses to deny service to people based on their sexuality, an effort that is as antithetical to the idea of love they neighbor as it is appalling to the sentiments of secular society. These bills essentially legalize discrimination against and dehumanization of LGBTQ individuals, and seek to deny their basic human and civil rights.

While efforts such as the "Do No Harm Act" (supported by HAF and 40 other organizations) seek to counter these forms of discrimination, more needs to be done in houses of worship to counter hate and intolerance against LGBTQ individuals. Regardless of our faith, we can no longer stand silent if and when we hear faith leaders spout hate against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, as in the case of an Evangelical pastor's chilling sermon in Northern California several days ago. Faith communities don't necessarily have to agree when it comes to the morality of homosexuality (that is something that has to come organically from within different faith groups), they do have an obligation to live up to their faith's ideals of compassion when it comes to helping their LGBTQ friends, neighbors and relatives and shielding them from hate and violence. Even leaders from religions that are more scripturally accepting of homosexuality - such as Hinduism and Buddhism - need to do a lot more to connect that scriptural acceptance with daily practice.

Within the Hindu community, these dialogues have already begun, and there has been a slow but steady progress towards ensuring LGBTQ individuals of the faith are able to safely and confidently assert both their religious and sexual identities. I'm not sure whether similar conversations are taking place in other religious groups, but I hope that what might start as internal dialogues within faith communities can develop into an interfaith (and secular) movement to stop violence of all forms against LGBTQ individuals. We need to make sure the lives of those lost to bigotry and terror are honored, and that their deaths galvanize us towards living the ideals of what our faiths teach us.