The Continuum Of Violence: Homophobia Didn’t Start With A Mass Shooting In Orlando


The mass shooting Florida is at the extreme end of the scale of violence against the Queer community. But the source is bigotry, something that is actively promoted in Australia, writes Nick Pendergrast.

It is horrible to hear what has happened in Orlando. More information on this terrorist attack is becoming available as time passes, however, it seems clear that the attack was inspired by homophobic outrage at seeing two men kissing.

In order to address extreme acts of violent homophobia such as this, we have to tackle homophobia all of the way along the spectrum of the ‘continuum of violence’.

Image from the chapter ‘Disability and the Continuum of Violence’ by Dr Andrea Hollomotz – from the book Disability, Hate Crime and Violence.
Image from the chapter ‘Disability and the Continuum of Violence’ by Dr Andrea Hollomotz – from the book Disability, Hate Crime and Violence.

This continuum of violence, outlined in the image above, is one that is explained by Dr Andrea Hollomotz, a lecturer in Disability and Crime, in the book Disability, Hate Crime and Violence (from pages 53-55).

She explains that this notion of a continuum demonstrates a broader understanding of the term “violence” to not only include physical harm but also discriminatory language and other forms of bigotry, such as segregation.

She notes that such actions also have profound effects on the targeted group.

Hollomotz is focusing predominantly on violence against people with disabilities, but notes that this notion of a continuum was first suggested in relation to gendered violence. It is very useful in understanding hate crime generally, including homophobic hate crimes like the attack in Orlando.

While such attacks are certainly at the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of homophobic violence, they should not be viewed as totally separate to other forms of discrimination against queer people, such as homophobic language or stigma around certain sexualities.

All of these actions are based on the same homophobic thinking, and all have the same effect in terms of maintaining existing power imbalances and keeping queer people marginalised.

(IMAGE: Guillame Paumier, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Guillame Paumier, Flickr)

Those individuals who become victims of hate crime are also likely to have been victims of other forms of discrimination along the spectrum, such as discriminatory language, stigma and exclusion.

Likewise, those carrying out hate crimes often start with “lower levels” of bigotry, which are still very harmful, before escalating further down the spectrum of discriminatory violence.


Malcolm Turnbull’s Response and Safe Schools

I have been following Malcolm Turnbull’s response to the attack. He has condemned the attack and while arguing that this is “an attack on all of us” he has acknowledged that this is “a murderous attack on gay people” specifically.

It is not enough for Turnbull to only condemn the violence at the extreme end of the continuum, especially while his government has attacked the Safe Schools Coalition.

This program aims to support queer youth and overcome issues such as stigma and social inclusion in schools. If we are genuinely concerned about stopping attacks like the one in Orlando, it is vitally important to address homophobia all of the way along this spectrum.

Turnbull’s comments that the attack “certainly appears to be motivated by a hatred of the freedoms, the free society which all of enjoy” do nothing to address the root cause of such homophobic hate crimes.

Instead of this empty George W. Bush-type rhetoric about terrorists hating our freedoms, we need to oppose not just this attack but the marginalisation of queer people in all forms.

This means not only supporting programs like Safe Schools, but also opposing homophobic comments from some right-wing politicians and groups in Australia following the Orlando attack.

Nick Pendergrast teaches Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Melbourne and his research is in the areas of social movements, social change and Critical Animal Studies. He is also a host of the political podcast Progressive Podcast Australia.