HIV, LGBTQ Groups Refer to 1980s AIDS Crisis in Call for Unity After Orlando Shooting

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A coalition of 53 LGBTQ-focused advocacy groups recalled the history of the early HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. as it appealed for unity in the wake of the murder of 49 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub on June 12.

"As LGBTQ people who lived through the AIDS crisis, we know what it looks like and feels like to be scapegoated and isolated in the midst of a crisis that actually requires solidarity, empathy and collaboration from all quarters," reads a letter posted on the website for the Arcus Foundation on June 13.

"We appeal to all in our movement and all who support us to band together in rejecting hatred and violence in all its shape shifting forms. Let us stand united as a diverse LGBTQ community of many faiths, ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds," the letter urges. It implores the community to keep the conversation in the wake of the Orlando shooting focused not on potential ties to the Muslim faith, but instead on "epidemic of violence that LGBTQ people, including those in the Muslim community, are facing in this country."

The letter stresses that community members "who carry multiple marginalized identities" face the most severe impact of violence and discrimination, explaining that "these intersectional identities and their ramifications are apparent at every level in the Orlando tragedy, which disproportionately affected Latino/a members of our communities, and has xenophobic consequences that threaten LGBTQ Muslims."

The letter also mentions that acts of anti-LGBTQ violence remain common more than 40 years after the murder of 32 LGBTQ people in an arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973. "Crimes motivated by bias due to sexual orientation and gender identity were the second largest set of hate crimes documented by the FBI in 2015 (over 20 percent)," it states. "Bias crimes against US immigrant populations, which include significant numbers of LGBTQ people, have increased over the past decade as anti-immigrant rhetoric has escalated."

The letter was signed by 53 organizations that are defined, at least in part, by their focus on LGBTQ advocacy and services. Many also play HIV-related roles (such as Gay Men's Health Crisis, Lambda Legal, National Minority AIDS Council and Transgender Law Center), while others aim their services at particular racial or ethnic communities (such as the Center for Black Equity, Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, National Black Justice Coalition, National Council of La Raza, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Tarab NYC and Trans People of Color Coalition.)

While the coalition letter aims to promote a unified, supportive LGBTQ community message, other community efforts seek to raise funds that will help people directly or indirectly affected by the Orlando shooting. The organization Funders for LGBTQ Issues has published a list of recommendations for people wishing to donate to causes in response to the massacre.

The list includes fundraising efforts to directly support the victims, survivors and their families. It also mentions local and national HIV service providers, advocacy groups and LGBTQ organizations -- including nonprofits that address the community’s needs and are responding not only to this particular shooting, but to other forms of anti-LGBTQ violence. The list also includes guidance on how to make a public statement supporting the Orlando LGBTQ community.