After Orlando: Managing Fear and Welcoming Diversity

After Orlando: Managing Fear and Welcoming Diversity

Welcoming America | September 23, 2016

On June 12, 2016, Orlando witnessed the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter, the deadliest incidence of violence against the LGBTQ community in US history, and the deadliest terror attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. The shooting took place at Pulse nightclub, a popular gay bar that was hosting Latin night.

As part of Welcoming Week, The University of Florida Center for Global Islamic Studies and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service hosted a panel discussion on Sept. 13 to discuss the Orlando shooting and give community members a chance to ask questions in an effort to process the complexity of this tragedy.

The panel included Rasha Mubarak from the Council for American Islamic Relations Florida (CAIR Florida), Terry Fleming from the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, and Zoharah Simmons, UF Professor in the Department of Religion. The panel was meant to bring together those of diverse backgrounds that were affected by the shooting in different ways and who continue to face discrimination based on their faith, sexual orientation, ethnicity and/or race.

Their discussion is summarized below, and offers advice for any community to overcome fear of the other and welcome diversity.

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Fear is not the answer

Xenophobic sentiments have been increasing in communities across the United States over the past months and the fact that the perpetrator of the Orlando shooting was a Muslim of Afghan descent produced a new wave across Florida, especially targeted at the Muslim community - children were bullied in school because of their background, a mosque was set on fire, and some tried to pit LGBT, Latino, and Muslim communities against one another.

Ms. Mubarak from CAIR Florida shared her very personal experience of watching Muslim friends and neighbors be too scared to leave their houses in the days after the shooting and attendees of mosques feeling even more targeted than before. Simultaneously, residents across Florida expressed fear of Muslim community members and Muslim refugees being resettled in the state.

Panelists emphasized that this fear on either side cannot be the answer. Ms. Mubarak said she and a group of other Muslim women made sure to go to the scene of the shooting and distribute water bottles and help the victims and their families to show that community support knows no boundaries defined by faith, race, or sexual orientation.

Fear will divide us even further and create mistrust, which ultimately prohibits us from creating inclusive, functioning communities.

We can do more than tolerate each other

Panelists also made the point that tolerance of one another should not be the way to move forward. Tolerance is too passive, unengaged, and ineffective in the process of building communities. We need to accept that we may come from different religious and cultural backgrounds, our sexual orientations may differ, and we do not need to agree on everything or expect people to share our ways of life.

While tolerance is a passive approach, acceptance actively calls for individuals to get to know their neighbor, to leave their comfort zone, and learn about different ways of life, cultures, and faiths. Acceptance is not always easy, but it is absolutely crucial and truly rewarding.

Managing fear and welcoming diversity

Panelists also provided practical advice and steps to move forward from a community tragedy, manage our own fear and the fear of others, and celebrate the diversity of our communities.

Five ways to manage fear

  • Come together as one in the face of crisis and tragedy
  • Provide more balanced media coverage and hold news outlets accountable
  • Understand that fear after an event like a mass shooting is a perfectly normal response but that it should not be directed toward a group of people
  • Recognize that one person can never represent a whole community of people and we should stop generalizing
  • Stop “othering” people and focus on similarities between people rather than differences

Five ways to welcome diversity

  • Seek dialogue with others to learn about their faith, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.
  • Educate institutions like law enforcement, schools, and healthcare providers on the different groups in your community and their specific needs and challenges
  • Invite others to your events to let them see what your community is about first-hand
  • Call out xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and stand up for others
  • Bring together marginalized groups to create larger, stronger communities

More resources for building welcome

Stand Together: A toolkit for advocates, service providers, and supporters to address the backlash toward refugees and Muslim Americans, and to help you proactively engage with community leaders and neighbors.

Neighbors Together: A collection of promising practices to counter anti-refugee and anti-Muslim backlash and work towards a positive vision for our communities that demonstrate how: building meaningful contact between diverse populations; positive communications strategies; and engaging civic and community leaders can help create a climate in which all people can thrive.

Guest blog by Paula Roetscher, Welcoming Gainesville

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