Why has Britain Ignored the Homophobia of the Reading Attacks?

Last Saturday, three gay men were murdered in a Reading park by a Libyan Islamic fundamentalist who had been under surveillance by MI5.

The killings of Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong, and David Wails constituted the worst incident of anti-gay violence in Britain in recent years and had harrowing echoes of the homophobic murder spree that took place in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida almost exactly four years ago.

As news broke and the depressingly familiar coverage began, we all went through the motions. Politicians condemned the actions. Twitter was flooded with commiserations. The country expressed its sadness at the barbaric and brutal actions of a being you might charitably describe as human-adjacent.

However, something didn’t add up.

Once it emerged that the three victims of this bronze-age scumbag were all gay men, the logical conclusion that this was a homophobic attack was strangely missing.

In fact, only the brilliant Douglas Murray of The Spectator seemed to have cottoned-on to the fact that there was something about a terrorist extremist killing three gay men that could be, if you squinted hard enough, seen as anti-gay.

Where were the politicians and media on this, especially in the sad ruins of what was once a vibrant gay press when they should have been there to condemn this blatant act of homophobic violence? (Looking at you Pink News, or are you too busy fretting about J.K. Rowling’s Twitter feed to pay proper attention to three gay lives taken by this this ugly animal?)

The wilful ignorance of the homophobic nature of these heinous crimes would have been bad enough, had it not been for the second wave of homophobia that crashed down around an already stunned and shocked gay community.

Firstly, the questions around the mental health of the sub-human arrested for killing these men began (NO – his name will get no column inches from me so long as there is breath in my body and attractive men in my DMs!).

Give me a break!

I propose, controversial as it may be, that if an alleged-man kills three gay men in broad daylight, it is reasonable to conclude that its actions had a homophobic aspect.

Is it really bad form to infer that, when something with links to religious fundamentalist terrorists knifes three gay men to death in broad daylight, that it may harbour homophobic views?

Secondly, there is the blurring together of a specific act of lethal violence against a particular group with other acts of violence. I like to call it the ‘All Lives Matter’ approach.

This took two forms.

First, the men were referred to as ‘members of the LGBT community’ rather than as gay men. Even Owen Jones, whose finest moment came when he walked-off the set of SKY News when his fellow guest and the host refused to acknowledge the homophobic nature of the Orlando attacks, was guilty of this.

Let’s be clear, this was not an attack against lesbians, bisexual people, or the trans community. The bodies in Reading were of gay men and to ignore that is to do them a disgraceful disservice.

However, perhaps the worst response to this whole sorry incident came from the charity that used to care about gay men. Stonewall.

In an insipid, lukewarm, ballless, gutless tweet, these moral minnows declared “Our thoughts are with those affected by the attack… But we can’t let Islamophobic, racist [sic] and xenophobic rhetoric be used to divide us…”.

The bodies weren’t even cold yet and Britain’s leading alleged-gay rights charity felt the need to remind us that, in fact, all bigotries mattered!

How positively grotesque and undeserving of its legacy.

Shame on you, Stonewall!

Nobody, especially in a community well-used to bigotry, is saying that racism and Islamophobia don’t matter but, just as when people raise the plight of poor white people in a conversation about Black Lives Matter, the effect was to derail and negate a discussion of a particular kind of bigotry.

There is, and must be, time to discuss the issues impacting Muslims living in Britain but there must also be time to discuss the clearly homophobic killing of three gay men in a British park. To attempt to occlude one with the other does neither cause any good.

Much like it did in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the way in which we have disregarded the homophobia of the Reading killings leaves gay men in Britain adrift.

Once again, the people who were supposed to speak up have either failed to do so or have done so in a way that makes one wish they hadn’t. Who can the gay man in the modern UK trust to stand beside him? It seems that, when it counts, the answer is pretty much nobody.

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