In our weekly "Behind the Headlines" segment, St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh discussed the top news stories that caught St. Louisans’ attention this week, with the people who produced them and contributed to them. This week, we turned our discussion to the tragedy in Orlando and how the St. Louis community has responded to the mass shooting at a popular gay nightclub there that killed 49 people.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Nancy Fowler gave us an update on what she’s been reporting and her own personal journey. Fowler reported earlier this week on a video project that is sending messages of solidarity from St. Louis' LGBTQ community to those in Orlando. She said that those she talked with were sharing a major type of fear that those who are not a minority might not understand.
Fowler said most people she talked to while reporting were not surprised that this kind of violence happened at a gay club, traditionally considered a safe haven.
"At a time when the LGBT community is experiencing much more visibility and equality, they feel like it is some sort of a backlash," Fowler said. "The hate is reaching a fever pitch among those who feel they are losing their grip on the ability to control the lives of those in this population."
Steven Brawley, author of “Gay and Lesbian St. Louis,” gave us some perspective on the local impact the mass shooting has had on St. Louis LGBTQ community as well. He pointed out that Pride St. Charles takes place this weekend, St. Louis Pride takes places downtown next weekend and St. Louis Black Pride takes places in August. He expects many people will come out to support the events, despite fears in the community.
"I think as these Prides occur, there's going to be time for reflection," Brawley said. "I'm not sure what we know about the call for action, what that's going to look like, but I sense that, this being an election year, this tragedy will result in people coming together and figuring out how to react to some of the hate-mongering that is out there."
Faizan Syed, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) - Saint Louis, also joined the program to discuss how the Muslim community has responded to the mass shooting and how, often, Muslims are asked to make statements as a religion when a perpetrator of a mass killing identifies as Muslim or comes from a Muslim background.
"At the vigil that happened this Sunday, I was honored to come and speak at that vigil on behalf of the Muslim community, and one of the most powerful moments that impacted me is that one of the organizers said that we're not going to let this hate incident that happened to us impact and allow for Islamophobia to perpetuate in our community," Syed said.
Syed and Brawley discussed how violence against both LGBTQ and Muslim communities is reaching terrifying new heights. Syed shared a story about how, growing up in Kirkwood, he never had any trouble with threats or violence. Earlier this year, though, someone sent a threatening package to his home.
"The hatred that is growing in this country is not just rhetoric, it creates a situation where people who have lesser minds, who might have mental illness, are now taking action against people who they believe are a threat to them or their culture. That leads to innocent people being targeted and attacked. That's what you see in the Muslim and LGBTQ communities.
"At the vigil, one of the transgender speakers said that every 29 hours, a transgender person is targeted and killed in this country. I had no idea. What does that say about us as a nation that we don't even know the struggles and stories other people are going through on a daily basis? This tragedy allows for us to start speaking about other people's struggles to be accepted and welcomed in our communities."
Brawley said that he's seen hateful responses to the LGBTQ community over the shooting on YouTube and Facebook all week. He continued:
"I don't care if you don't like my lifestyle, if that's what they want to call it, however, what shred of decency do you not have to at minimum say 'I'm sorry, this is horrible?'"
Listen to the rest of the discussion between Brawley, Syed and Fowler about media coverage, stereotypes, hate rhetoric, the election cycle and marginalized communities here:
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St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.