Dear GOP: Keep Your Thoughts and Prayers

You Can Keep Your Thoughts and Prayers
In the wake of the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub last weekend, one phrase seems to permeate the social media conversation: that "thoughts and prayers" are with us. It's become an especially popular refrain among conservative lawmakers and Republican faithful. We've seen those words from the likes of Donald Trump, and U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ted Cruz — all with zero mention that the attack was directed at the LGBT community.

At a time when LGBT people (and trans people in particular) are facing a virulent, conservative-fueled backlash against the recent advancements we've secured for equality, those prayers feel like a hollow, empty gesture. Thoughts and prayers aren't stopping harassment and discrimination. They aren't stopping trans women of color from being murdered at an alarming rate. They aren't keeping LGBT kids from terrifyingly high levels of homelessness and suicide. And thoughts and prayers won't do a thing to honor the lives of those who died at Pulse, to give them their lives back, to comfort the survivors and families of the slain, or to prevent another attack of similar motivation.

The Orlando shooting is not something that occurred in isolation, nor was it random. It is not the product of the shooter's "mental health." It is not the result of "radical Islam." The 49 people who lost their lives to a gunman's bullets in Orlando are dead because of a pervasive culture of homophobia and transphobia that empowers violence against LGBT people, that permits others to dehumanize us, that allows debates on our mere existence.
 
While marriage equality has been the law of the land for nearly a year, the struggle for rights of LGBT people to simply exist is far from over. Over 100 pieces of regressive legislation targeting LGBT people have been proposed around the U.S. in just the last year. They include such things as restricting trans people's access to public restrooms and enshrining into law the night to discriminate against gay and trans people as a matter of religious freedom. All were spearheaded by Republicans. Several GOP presidential hopefuls, including Ted Cruz, attended a conference hosted by a minister who has frequently advocated for gay people to be executed. Another religious right activist advocated shooting trans women earlier this month. We have had to listen to county sheriffs, sheriff candidates, state lawmakers, and Christian attorneys threaten to beat or shoot trans women simply for using a public restrooms. Already, pastors in Tempe, Ariz., and Sacramento have publicly celebrated the horrible violence that occurred at Pulse this weekend.
 
"Thoughts and prayers" are meaningless platitudes from politicians and policymakers. They are an implicit refusal to address the structural and cultural underpinnings of this kind of violence. There's a good reason for that refusal, of course: money. Journalist Igor Volsky took the time to catalog the amount of campaign money received from the National Rifle Association for each of the GOP congressmen who has offered "thoughts and prayers" in the last few days, just as he did in the aftermath of the San Bernadino shooting. Conservatives, of course, also remain financially beholden to the religious right and their massive, largely unmonitored political money machine.
 
In refusing to name this attack as homophobic violence, conservatives are doing nothing but perpetuating the cycles of hate that allowed this tragedy to occur. They are complicit in the deaths of these 49 beautiful human beings. In offering us nothing but the platitudes of "thoughts and prayers," Republicans are ensuring that homophobia and transphobia will continue to claim countless LGBT lives for years to come.
 
As if to underline how little the lives of LGBT people actually matter to GOP lawmakers, just days following the shooting in Orlando, Republicans in the House have killed a measure that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors. It was the third time this year that this measure, which simply affirms a policy already enacted by President Obama by executive order, has been blocked by the GOP. If conservatives cannot manage even a symbolic vote of support for the LGBT community, there are few reasons to believe they have any real concern for those whose lives were lost early Sunday morning.
 
The GOP cannot continue to associate themselves with people and organizations that call for the deaths of LGBT people, then feign shock and ignorance when LGBT lives are lost to hate crimes. They cannot be allowed to hide behind religion as an excuse to demonize and marginalize an entire community and then pretend that their rhetoric is not contributing to the culture of violent homophobia and transphobia that sparks horrific crimes like the shooting at Pulse. They cannot be allowed to be offer us prayers for our dead with one side of their mouths, then attack our legal equality with the other.
 
The thoughts and prayers of conservatives might be with us, but their policies, actions, and agenda are still very clearly against us. For those of us fighting for basic survival, it is the actions that truly matter. 
 
MARI BRIGHE is the transgender issues correspondent for The Advocate.

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