“We Cannot Allow Bigotry to Be the Answer to Bigotry”: In Solidarity with Orlando

Andrea Assaf | June 20, 2016

Alternate ROOTS joins the many, many communities and individuals who are grieving and grappling with the horrifying violence that unfolded at Pulse night club in Orlando, FL just over a week ago. As a network of artist-activists committed to undoing all forms of oppression, everywhere, we are in solidarity with those most deeply impacted: those lives lost or harmed by the Pulse club murders – primarily Brown and Black LGBTQ folks and their loved ones – as well as Arab American, Muslim, and immigrant communities who are already being scapegoated by opportunistic politicians.

Our ROOTS family runs deep, and today we lift up the words of longtime member Andrea Assaf. Andrea is a writer, performer, director, cultural organizer, and founding Artistic Director of Art2Action Inc.; Andrea is also queer, Arab American, and living in Florida. On Sunday, June 12, 2016, Andrea shared the following on Facebook:

It is very difficult to find words, but there are some things I must say. As my friends know, I am queer, Arab American, and I live in Florida. I feel it is very important to be out and clear about who I am right now – to remind folks that there are many of us who live in the intersections, who cannot allow facets of ourselves, or our communities, to be pitted against each other. Especially not for political gain, in the face of horrific tragedy. We cannot allow bigotry to be the answer to bigotry.

Listen to me, America:


People are mourning. My sorrow and condolences go out to everyone whose lives and families (biological and chosen) have been forever altered by this tragedy. In this time, we must let our common humanity and care for one another outshine the voices of hate that are adding to the horror every hour. June is the holy month of Ramadan this year, for Muslims who observe it, and it is also Gay Pride. How often does that happen? It is a special time for both queer communities, and Muslim communities. Please, let us all honor each other, put all judgments and assumptions aside, and in doing so, refuse to be divided or conquered, and build solidarities like never before.

I am not Muslim, but as many of you know, I have been Building Bridges to combat Islamophobia in Tampa, FL for the last few years now. Clearly, there is much more work ahead. And as someone who was raised Catholic, let me just say that Christianity has so much to answer for in perpetuating the global spread of homophobia and its violence. The demonization of sexuality has roots in the Old Testament. Let me just say, to all religions today, those in glass houses… Just keep your stones to yourself, please. Or better yet, get rid of them.

Now, let me address racism. As soon as the alleged shooter was identified as someone of Middle Eastern, actually Central Asian, descent, the word “terrorism” was unleashed, before any facts were known at all. Also this morning, in California, a white man from Indiana was arrested with a car full of ammunition and explosives, on his way to the Gay Pride parade, but no one has used the t-word in that case. Trump immediately used his response to not only attack Muslims, but immigrants in general – even though the alleged Orlando shooter was an American citizen from New York. This is how racism works, y’all. Let us not be confused.

And yes, we should be talking about terrorism, because ALL HATE CRIMES are terrorism, and should be treated with the same level of legal severity. LGBTQ communities have been terrorized by hate crimes for as long as I can remember, certainly my lifetime and long before. Are you aware of how many gay, lesbian, queer, two spirit, and trans-identified people are attacked, beaten, raped, and murdered every year? Are you aware of this ongoing violence in your own community? Are you ready to do something to stop it?

And lastly, through the onslaught of media sensationalism, political campaigning, and ignorance that has already begun, and which we will have to endure in the coming months, let us keep our critical thinking skills engaged, ask real questions, and demand accountability. Here are some questions I already have: If the first shots were fired outside the club around 2am, and police cars were already there, why did a SWAT team not go into the building until 5am? If it is true that the shooter himself called 911 to “pledge allegiance” before the attacks, why did the police not intervene immediately? How was a man who had been investigated by the FBI twice allowed to (1) continue being a security guard at a federal building, and (2) “legally” buy an automatic rifle this week? I have a lot more questions, but let’s start with these. And yes, GUN CONTROL. NOW.

I guess I’d just like to finish by saying thank you to friends and colleagues who have reached out today to ask how I am. Full of sorrow, and yes, anger and fear. And determined as ever to continue my work as an artist: to turn destructive energy into creative energy. One day at a time. PEACE.

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Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.