New York Times columnist Frank Bruni joined me this AM to discuss the aftermath of the Orlando attack and his column from this morning:
HH: I’m joined now by Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Frank, thanks for joining me this morning. And your column today, A Time To Stand With Gay Americans, I’ve linked and pushed out. I think everyone ought to read it. The names of all 49 victims have been released now. What is your reaction to the reaction, which seems to me to be run away from the story as quickly as possible? I’m actually kind of shocked we aren’t doing what we normally do in the aftermath of a horrific massacre, which is pause and mourn.
FB: Well, you know, the reaction’s been all over the place. And some people are pausing and mourning. But you know, what disturbed me in particular in the 48, 72 hours after it is, and this is, I think, what you were alluding to, was there was an almost, there was a deliberate, willful vagueness from many quarters about what kind of nightspot had been targeted, about who these victims were. And it felt me that in another situation, there are people who would have been saying I stand with whatever community that was in their moment of heartache. And in this case, the word gay and the letters LGBT were often being scrubbed out of remarks. I took to particular task in the column Mitch McConnell, because there was a statement he released after the attack. He made remarks on the Senate floor. And again and again, in what would normally be a logical thing to include, a little bit of detail about the community targeted, a little bit of detail about the victims, there was nothing on that. And I really don’t understand it, and I think it’s dangerous.
HH: The leader is a friend of mine, and I hope he reads this, because I don’t believe that would be intentional. I think Speaker Ryan did it the right way, and I believe Donald Trump did it the right way. But let me point out over at CNN, the list of 49 people is heartbreaking, including Edward Sotomayor, who was a travel planner known as Top Hat Eddie. He was 34 years old. Then you scroll down, and you’ll find an 18 year old, Akyra Monet Murray, who had just graduated from high school.
HH: …and had been dropped off at the dance club. And the list is as long as 49 can be, and it’s completely heartbreaking. What do you want people to do as perhaps the highest profile gay writer in America who is a columnist? Most of the time, I have no occasion to talk to you about your sexuality, but what would you want people to do?
FB: Yeah, I want us to watch very carefully, I want us to be very careful the way we speak about our disagreements in public. You know, there are, there are genuine disagreements out there, political disagreements about, say, same sex marriage. And I respect the diversity of opinion on that. It’s not so many years ago that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you know, were not for it. There are many disagreements right now about certain so-called religious freedom laws, and whether they’re really doing what they intend to do or whether they legitimize discrimination. I would ask people as we talk about this stuff, as we hash out these political differences, please be careful not to vilify LGBT people. Please be careful not to speak in a way of them that endorses or encourages hate or casts us as lesser. We can have these disagreements without tagging a whole group of Americans as people who are fair game to be treated differently, and to be the focus of hatred.
HH: A fair request, and I believe that to be a case. I also worry that as the tide of Islamist hatred grows, people worry, are not aware of the fact that they target specifically LGBT. After the attack, I called extended family members to warn them about the Los Angeles attempted attack, and to say hey, be aware if you’re going to a pride event, that this, I don’t know if this is coordinated or not. But it does seem like the Islamists have a special fondness for killing LGBT people.
FB: Oh, it’s chilling. I wrote a column, I lose track of time, but it was maybe six, seven months ago about this particular thing. And you know, as I was doing my research and reading various things and going on the internet, you can without, you know, without much effort, you can find videos on the internet of the Islamic State throwing people they believe to be gay off of rooftops. That is, for some reason, their preferred method of execution. Absolutely in the same way that they have no regard for women’s rights, and the same way they have, well, they have no regard for pluralism of any kind. They have shown a particularly blood-curdling enmity, hatred for gay people. And it really is, it really is just yet another example of why we must make sure that this, that we fight against them as hard as possible, because this is not a way of thinking or a way of life that I think any of us endorses.
HH: Now Frank Bruni, I talked with Joby Warrick just before you came on, the Pulitzer Prize winning author at the Washington Post who’s written Black Flags about ISIS. Sayyid Qutb, the founder, really the ideologue of al Qaeda, and the intellectual soul of al Qaeda, appeared to have been a sexually conflicted individual during his time in the West. Mohamed Atta, it is believed to be the same thing. This individual, this killer, I’m not sure what to make, if he was just casing gay bars or intending himself to be involved in gay relationships and conflicted over that. What do you make of all the data on this?
FB: Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting you mention that, because I’ve been reading that with a great deal of interest, because it is hard to say conclusively. You know, we’re learning that he was on gay hookup apps, we’re learning that he was in gay chatrooms, we’re learning that he’s, you know, been to gay clubs. And as you flagged, is this about trying to meet people to set them up to be victimized? Or is this about a side of himself? I think his ex-wife even said to some journalists that he always wondered if he was gay. This, in this tangle of motives of his, could be a profound, profound self-hatred, because we have seen time and again people inflicting pain on the LGBT community or speaking out viciously against LGBT people, and then they’re revealed, in fact, themselves to have a conflicted orientation or to be gay. So if it turns out that that’s the case, then a strain of self-hatred is a part of this. But it’s not a kind of self-hatred we haven’t seen a million times before.
HH: Now there’s one story that if it were not, I believe, The Pulse, would be known widely and across the country. I don’t know if you’re heard the name, yet, Imram Yusuf. He is a Marine veteran. Sgt. Imran Yusuf was a bouncer at The Pulse nightclub. He saved dozens of lives during the mass shooting. Because of his name, people might assume that he was himself a Muslim. I don’t know. They don’t know he’s a Marine, but he probably saved 60 or 70 people by getting them out of the nightclub. Have you heard that story, yet, Frank Bruni?
FB: You know, I’ve heard little bits and pieces of it. As you were saying it, it was vaguely familiar to me. But right now, I feel like there’s so many stories coming at us, that you know, it’s hard to see each of them clearly. I had heard about, you mentioned the 18 year old girl who was killed, and I was actually on CNN last night in a segment right after they had talked to her mother, and they had talked to her cousin. And she was this model, model recent high school graduate, had a full ride to college.
HH: Mercyhurst, which is up in…
FB: And that’s the story that to me…
HH: Yeah, Mercyhurst College, which is near my hometown in Warren, Ohio. So she must, it’s a Catholic school. It’s a very interesting backstory there.
FB: Yeah, but that’s the thing. You know, we ask this question in the wake of any kind of massacre like this. How much promise was wiped out?
FB: You know, how many futures that would have contributed to brightly to all of us? It’s just so senseless.
HH: Now in the aftermath of it as well, President Obama went on the attack against Donald Trump. And whether or not one likes Trump’s immigration policies, I thought the President’s timing was ill-considered, because Trump stood with the LGBT community. And we’re 48 hours away from this. I don’t want it to become a debate about something else, yet. What is your reaction to the, not to the President or to Trump, but to the idea that we’re moving on in 48 hours?
FB: Well, I hope we’re not moving on. I mean, it is the sad fact of our times that everything gets instantly politicized in every which way possible right away. And like you, I think it would be good if we could sometimes take a little bit of a pause. Trump’s speech was very fascinating in its way, because on the one hand, it was one of the most exclusionary speeches I’d ever heard in terms of casting suspicions on whole ethnicities and whole religions. And yet as you note, interesting, in that same speech, he reached out very expansively to LGBT Americans, and to women, saying it’s because I’m your friend that I feel as strongly as I do about the ways of the Islamic State, and I want to keep you safe. So it was a much more kind of fascinating and complicated speech than some of the coverage of it has suggested.
HH: I agree. Last question, Frank Bruni, are you at all aware, worried that this is going to become a playbook for jihadis? They, you know, nightclubs late at night, jammed, few entrances, lots of loud music. The only other place you can find that many people with that loud of music is a church, which by the way, they’d like to wipe out as well. But nevertheless, I hate to suggest in the aftermath of 9/11, no one talked about possible attacks and possible tactics, because they didn’t want to give bad guys ideas. What’s your, are you ambivalent at all about this?
FB: Well, you know, when I first read the news, there was a particular knot in my stomach where I kind of, I realized in a certain sense I had been worried about and waiting for this. And in this, and what I mean by that is I know that LGBT Americans, that LGBT people are, you know, public enemy number one for Islamic extremists. But I don’t think, I’m not now thinking oh, it’s going to happen again and again. I think the whole point of this kind of terror is we don’t know where it’s going to happen. And in fact, today, it’s a gay nightclub. Tomorrow, it’s a monument. The next day, it’s a church. There are so many different theaters of death in which they can make their hideous statements, that I think it would be a mistake for us to say this place is more vulnerable, this place is more vulnerable, because then, we end up kind of saying certain people have to be more scared than others, and we all need to be equally scared about what this means and what this represents, and about this threat.
HH: And so you held up Romney, Ryan and Donald Trump for praise in this column. You would like McConnell to attend. And your appeal to everyone, Republican and Democrat, is if there’s a pride gathering somewhere, just go. If you’re not going to march, stand and be in solidarity.
FB: Yeah, because as you said, after these massacres, after these sorts of things, we often behave in certain ways. We look for gestures, grand ones, pointed ones, that say I won’t be afraid, and that say kind of I stand with the victims. There’s a really easy way to do that in the coming weekend. This happens to be Gay Pride Month. This coming weekend, the weekend after it, there are events in many cities. It would be a wonderful time, you know, to go stand at a rally, go to one event, go to one parade, and just in that way say to the people who would inflict this sort of terror and carnage on us, you know, you can’t get the better of us, and this is what we stand for, and this is who we stand with.
HH: Frank Bruni, a great column this morning in the New York Times. Thank you for joining me on short notice. The column’s title is A Time To Stand With Gay Americans. It’s at www.nytimes.com. I have tweeted it out as well. Follow Frank, @FrankBruni.
End of interview.