Will Orlando help us see our common humanity?

The Observer editorial board

Jennifer, right, and Mary Ware light candles during an Orlando vigil for the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting.
Jennifer, right, and Mary Ware light candles during an Orlando vigil for the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting. AP

The Orlando victims’ blood ran red, just like yours and ours. They had jobs and families and hopes and fears. Their parents and brothers and sisters and children mourn that their lives were cut short by hatred.

In life, the animosity they faced because of their sexual orientation was part of their daily reality. In death, the world finally sees their humanity, not clouded by biases around who they loved.

Some gay-rights advocates have wrongly declared that anti-gay Republican leaders have Orlando’s blood on their hands because they created an antagonistic climate for gays. That is not fair. All this pain was inflicted by a single deranged individual. His precise motives are still being investigated, but he appeared to be motivated by intolerance for gays (though questions about his own sexuality have arisen) accelerated by a twisted view of his religion.

No, House Bill 2 and other anti-gay policies – and the familiar mean-spirited rhetoric of some political and religious leaders – did not cause this tragedy. Those things do, though, inflict inequality on a class of people and stokes hatred that forces them to fear what kind of discrimination they might face on any given day.

Perhaps, then, Orlando presents an opportunity for the Republican Party and its elected leaders. They have been shrinking their national appeal in recent years with their reputation for pitching a small tent. Maybe they will be moved by Orlando to better recognize gay people as fellow American citizens deserving of full equality.

It is too much to expect the most strident to alter their views. But maybe the heartfelt statements of sympathy from so many this week can translate into at least a softening of rhetoric. Maybe the platform presented at the Republican National Convention next month can steer clear of anti-gay platitudes. Maybe moderate Republicans can express acceptance of a party that embraces all types of people without fearing they will face a primary challenge from the right funded by special interests.

Trudy Ring, a writer for the gay-interest magazine The Advocate, holds out hope that politicians who have not been gay-rights supporters will, after Orlando, “recognize our common humanity.”

“Obviously, it’s too early to tell if today’s tragedy will have a long-term effect on conservative rhetoric…” she wrote. “But on LGBT equality, more people might move into what activists call the ‘movable middle.’”

As that movable middle grows, it eventually becomes big enough that the most shrill are out of the mainstream, like n-word-spouting racists are today.

After Mitt Romney and Republicans lost a winnable presidential election in 2012, an autopsy by the Republican National Committee urged the party to be “inclusive and welcoming.” It said Republicans need to demonstrate their care for minorities, including gay Americans.

The horror of Orlando gives them a fresh opportunity to do so. They shouldn’t miss the chance.