Civilities: We'll be talking about your reactions to the Orlando massacre for the full hour

Jun 21, 2016

Every other Tuesday, Steven Petrow (the author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners") addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat about everything that's on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Welcome to today's Live Chat where we'll be spending the next hour talking about the massacre in Orlando, what it means to the LGBTQ movement, to gun control, and much more. Feel free to send in questions or just let me know what your temperature is on all these topics.


For those interested, here's my column from today's Post:

The LGBT community feels the effects of ‘straightwashing.’ They’re angry about it.

How do you think our national conversation would be different had the shooting occurred at the NBA Finals? At Disneyworld? At a white, straight fraternity or sorority?

I've said often during the past week that the targeted murders of LGBTQ individuals and people of color in Orlando most closely reminded me of the shooting in Charleston just a year ago, when it was African-Americans who were the target of the killer. In that way, it was very different than say the shootings at the Aurora, CO movie house.


The Charleston event prompted an enormous conversation on race in the U.S., not to mention the hate embodied in the Confederate flag, which finally came down from the S.C. capitol soon after. An equivalent kind of conversation about the LGBTQ community is not happening now. That's why people mean when they say "straightwashing or #whitewashing.


A shooting at the NBA Finals or any other heterogeneous event would not have the element of hate at its crux, which is what I think puts Orlando and Charleston in a different, and even more troubling category.


What do you think?

I was in public (on my way to church, actually) when I first read about Pulse (on my phone, natch). I thought I'd be able to cry silently in the balcony, but our minister mentioned in from the pulpit after her sermon. Something about her saying the words out loud made it real, not just a news story on the page that might be a work of fiction, and I started sobbing. I was grateful to not be alone. I went to the "After Pulse" discussion at Busboys and Poets five days later. I was not alone in my surprise when it really turned into less of a "how to combat the culture that led to the worst attack of homophobia in our country's history" panel and more of a "how to enact gun control" panel. It was disappointing. I think that's a discussion worth having. So how can we use the momentum we still have now to have those discussions in DC?

If I'm reading your question correctly, you're saying that we're missing the discussion of "how to combat the culture that led to the worst attack of homophobia in our country's history" or that it's being subordinated to "how to enact gun control."

They don't need to be mutually exclusive, although your analysis seems correct to me. Let me take one example: People magazine, which has been a friend of the LGBTQ community for decades as well as a strong advocate for gun control. Its current issue, notably the cover, the editor's letter and video, squarely focus on gun control and not on the sexual orientation or skin color of the victims. It's extremely disheartening when a publication like that, with such a huge audience, erases a key part of the story. I asked editorial director Jess Cagle, who is gay, for his take and here's his full response:


"There were many important elements of the story that we did not have room to mention on the cover. The fact that my LGBTQ brothers and sisters were targeted is obviously important and personally shattering. So is the fact that the terrorist was able to obtain an assault weapon so easily. Those issues are prominent in our print and digital coverage, and will continue to be. In fact, instead of running an ad on the back cover we showed a rainbow flag. But on the cover, we really wanted to show the faces of dozens of victims, and in order to do so we had to keep verbiage to a minimum."


I don't understand the publicity of "LBGTQ Pride Month". How is having a particular sexual proclivity something to be proud of? At this point, my view is live and let live, but don't throw your lifestyle in my face and demand that I approve of it or take pride in your "community". Imagine having a federally sponsored "Straight White Male Pride Month" and you'll realize how stupid all this hoopla seems to most folks.

I'm wondering if you'd ask the same thing about "Black History Month" or "Latino History Month"? Probably not because those commemorations are about the history, heritage and contributions of those two racial groups. In the same way, LGBT Pride is about the history, heritage and contributions of queer people to our world.

Being LGBT is not a choice. It's not about "a sexual proclivity." It's not a "lifestyle," as you put it. It's about our identity. Pride is a time when we come together to celebrate our community and when others do, too. Just as we do for other racial, ethnic, and religious groups that are part of the "tossed salad" nature of our society.


Two notes: There's no federal sponsorship of any Pride events. Not sure where you picked that up. And as for "Straight  White Male Pride Month," I thought we "celebrated" that every month as straight, white men remain dominant in our society and culture. No?


I had heard some reports say the Orlando shooter had been to the Pulse as a customer before the shooting. Does it make a difference if he was gay and a part of the LGBT community or not? If he was struggling with his own identity isn't it different from someone who just disliked the community?

A similar question was posted under my column this morning and a quick reader responded in this way:

"I'm guessing you think self-loathing gays just come to that attitude naturally? You don't see the connection between people being told God hates them for who they are and those people hating other people who are like them? That he was gay doesn't change the impact of the toxic rhetoric which led to him pulling the trigger."

In other words, I'm reminded of the aphorism: "You have to be taught to hate."


And so my question is, regardless of the shooter's sexual orientation, how did he come to hate LGBT people, even if that includes a big dose of self-loathing. The answer? A deadly combination of  radical religious teachings and homophobia.

"Most folks" being you and people who think like you. You're hiding behind a false equivalency, and that's the "hoopla" that I find stupid.

I'll just be the messenger here and re-post your response.

What determines the Q in LGBTQ. Some of the discussion above leaves it off i.e LGBT.

The Q in LGBTQ usually refers to "queer," the umbrella term embraced by many younger non-straight individuals who don't see themselves fitting into one of the traditional boxes. But sometimes it refers to "questioning," i.e., those who are not yet certain about their sexual identity. Washington Post style is to use "LGBT" but when I use it please understand it to include both queer and questioning people.

(I wonder if the person who asked the question here copied and pasted, or is the same one who posted this question in the comments from your article.) Pride Month is important because, for too long in this country (and still in many others, as well as communities here), LGBT citizens were made to feel shame, or worse. They were diagnosed with a mental disorder. They were attacked in clubs, or on the streets. Pride is a reminder that no one can take away our dignity as human beings. The support we get from our allies reminds us that times are changing, and we no longer have to live in shame.

Thanks for adding this. Well said.

Given that the Orlando shooter killed and wounded anyone he could in Pulse, regardless of orientation, won't his massacre serve as a wake-up call for more straights to recognize the evils of homophobia and get off the fence, politically?

I'd hope that to be the case but as much as I am an advocate for finding a sensible solution to gun violence in this country I fear the "evils of homophobia," as you wrote, are getting lost in the debate. Same, too, when it comes to the skin color of those at Pulse that night. Let's not forget they were all people of color--even though it seems that we are.

What, Newtown wasn't white/all-American enough for you? The conversation then consisted of NRA sycophants shouting about treating mental illness in order to try to keep the focus away from the insanity of civilians being able to buy the kind of weaponry that shooter used.

You know, my goal is not to convince you that I'm right or that you're wrong. About homophobia. Gun violence. Racism. Whatever the issue. I'm really trying hard with you--and others--to have a respectful discussion, debate about these issues. Can't you join me in that endeavor?

If no one was moved to enact gun control legislation when children were gunned down at Sandy Hook, I can't imagine that any would be passed any time soon.

I'll tell you what gives me hope. After the struggle for marriage equality, the LGBTQ community has built some very powerful organizations; in particular, I'm thinking of HRC (the Human Rights Campaign), GLAAD ...  but there are many, many others, too. Along with those organizations come some savvy and tested leaders who have come to understand not only how to change hearts and minds but also legislators and judges votes.



Federal employees just finished doing the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) which measures what they think of their jobs, bosses, etc, and ultimately leads to rankings of which agencies are best to work for. Its administered by OPM. One of the last questions asks whether you are straight, gay, bi-sexual, trans, or prefer not to answer -- and you could only mark one answer. Since you were the among the first people to teach me that these terms are not exclusive, I just wanted to share my dismay and surprise that the Government does not yet get this distinction.

This is a great start -- by asking people to self-identify so that we can be counted. Be visible. It's imperfect and I'll forward along to others who have more insight into how all this works. Thanks for letting me know.

Check out the statement by San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy in the diocesan paper the Southern Cross. I'm sure there are some traditionalists having fits but he clearly points a finger at anti-LGBT hatred.

Re-posting so others can do this, too.

I'm sorry my tone caused you to misunderstand my post. I meant that the national conversation is different for each such horrible event because the gun lobby changes its tune depending on the identity of the shooter and the victims.

Hey. Thank you for responding with this tone. I really appreciate it and no, I hadn't really gotten the gist of what you were trying to say. Now, I do.

Will this be a turning point for the LGBT community?

I can't seem to find my gay crystal ball at the moment. (And that's a joke, BTW). But yes, I do. Our community has been nearly single-minded focused on marriage equality for decades, keeping count of the number of states where we could marry, not be fired etc. I think Orlando opened the door to just how much work still needs to be done in terms of acceptance, equality. I hope that this is a turning point not only for LGBTQ Americans but all Americans. But it will only happen if we make it happen.

I think many people in society think one = the other. I believe (although I can't put a link here)there have been studies that prove the opposite is true. Most Pedophiles are Heterosexual and not Homosexual. Why is it that people continue to believe this? That priest on video who praised what happened in Orlando because Pedophiles were killed. He didn't say LGBTQ.

Here's one link that I was able to find quickly since we're about out of time. But you're absolutely correct: Most pedophiles are straight not gay.

Thanks very much for joining the conversation today. I'll be back in a few weeks and will look forward to talking more then. -Steven

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
Genny Beemyn
Genny Beemyn is the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Trans Policy Clearinghouse coordinator for Campus Pride. Their many books include "The Lives of Transgender People" and "A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington, D.C."
Maxine Eichner
Maxine Eichner is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. She writes on issues at the intersection of law and political theory, focusing on family relationships, social welfare law and policy, feminist theory, sexuality and the relationship of the family.
Ji-Ho Park
Ji-Ho Park is a student at Duke University who identifies as gender queer.
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