Michael Abrahams | Flag flyers and flag flaggers
It was approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at Pulse, a popular gay club in Orlando, Florida. As last-call drinks were being served, and a DJ played a reggae jam, Omar Mateen crashed the party. Armed with a Sig Sauer MCX .223 calibre rifle and a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic pistol, he stormed the building and began shooting patrons. Some of the revellers initially thought that the gunfire was firecrackers, but as the DJ turned down the volume of the music, and human flesh and blood, and debris, began to splatter across the dance floor, it became apparent that a massacre was in progress.
Survivors described the abject terror of the attack, with the loud music and darkness magnifying the chaos, panic and confusion. The Sig Sauer rapidly fires multiple high-velocity rounds, and can disintegrate three inches of leg bone and produce jagged exit wound holes the size of an orange. Many victims were shot with this weapon at close range, producing a literal bloodbath. The carnage came to an end three hours later, after a SWAT team drove an armoured vehicle through a wall, entered the building and fatally shot the gunman. When the dust settled, it was discovered that 49 persons were killed, and 53 others injured.
As a gay club was the target of the assault, the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community sustained a formidable blow, and, along with others, is in mourning. United States embassies worldwide flew their national flags at half mast as a mark of respect to the deceased. The embassy in Jamaica also flew the rainbow flag below the American flag, in solidarity with the LGBT community, and according to a US Embassy tweet from Jamaica, this was done at embassies “across the globe”. The embassy in India was also lit with rainbow colours.
Unfortunately, Jamaica’s attorney general, Marlene Malahoo Forte, made a major diplomatic faux pas by tweeting: “I strongly condemn #OrlandoNightClubShooting but find it disrespectful of Jamaica's laws to have #RainbowFlag flown here. #MyPersonalView.” That tweet has become what must now be one of the most controversial, and irresponsible, political tweets in our history, and has created a firestorm.
Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS), as well as the Reverend Al Miller, quickly came to Malahoo Forte’s defence. LCF President Helene Coley-Nicholson actually had the audacity to ask US Ambassador Luis Moreno to “immediately take down the flag” and ask “if the US Embassy had flown any school or military or church flags after previous mass killings in the US”. JCHS also asked the same question and reminded the Americans “not to interfere in the internal affairs” of our country, while Al Miller referred to it as “deliberate act of provocation intended to advance a political agenda”. These remarks are insensitive, disrespectful, bigoted and just plain stupid.
It is disingenuous to state that flying the flag is “disrespectful to our laws”. The rainbow flag is used to represent the LGBT community, and there is no law in Jamaica that makes being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender illegal. As a matter of fact, a gay-rights advocacy organisation, J-FLAG, operates legally in this country, and a message of support was sent to the LGBT community by former Minister of Justice Mark Golding (whose job description included comprehensive knowledge of Jamaican laws) during Gay Pride week last year, a time during which rainbow flags are on display. The buggery law makes anal sex illegal in Jamaica, but by their pronouncements, the objecting ignoramuses have reduced LGBT issues to anal sex, an act that is performed by many heterosexuals and not practised by many members of the LGBT community.
To ask why other flags were not flown after previous mass shootings is ridiculous. There have been many mass shootings in America, but the Orlando shooting was of epic proportions and one of the worst ever on American soil. The sheer magnitude of it is mind-blowing. The total number of persons shot in that single attack exceeds those shot in the Charleston church, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings combined. It racked up the highest number of persons killed by a single gunman in American history. Globally, only two single-gunman attacks were more lethal: a massacre in Norway in 2011 (69 killed) and one in South Korea in 1982 (58 killed).
The flying of the rainbow flag at the American Embassy is not disrespectful or provocative, and does not represent interference or the pushing of any agenda. Considering the circumstances under which it was flown should make the motive clear. It was flown to show support to a group of people who are grieving after an extraordinary tragedy affected their community. Had Jamaicans just voted in a referendum to outlaw all expressions of homosexuality, and ban groups such as J-FLAG, and the embassy hoisted the flag the following day, accusations of provocation would be justified.
Some of the negative reactions and comments to the flying of the flag constitute genuine homophobia: an irrational fear of gay people. Some people will tell you that the acceptance of the “gay lifestyle” will start us on a “slippery slope”, beginning with the legalisation of anal sex, then gay marriage, then incest, then bestiality, and then one day you will get a wedding invitation to the nuptials of Winsome, Miss Mattie’s daughter,and Jerry, Maas Cedric’s jackass, and the trend will catch on across Jamaica. Such fears are unfounded and ludicrous.
To see a symbol of a marginalised group of people on display to support them in their time of grief, and to focus instead on your own discomfort, reeks of insensitivity, intolerance, selfishness, arrogance and paranoia. People are dead. Allow the living to grieve how they please. It really is none of our business.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.