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Big Story

Was Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen Gay? And If So, Does It Change Anything?

omar mateen gay victims orlando shooting vigil

A vigil for the victims in the Orlando shooting. (vpickering/Flickr)

After he carried out a horrifying massacre at the popular gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen was quickly profiled as a bigot.

Two stories--one, that he'd expressed disgust after seeing two men kissing in Miami, and two, that he'd frequently made homophobic comments to a former coworker--seemed to be clear evidence that Mateen was anti-gay.

This picture of the gunman, along with the fact that he called 911 during the siege to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and had become radicalized, helped people start to make some sense of his senseless act, the slaughter of dozens of innocent people. Quickly, it seemed pretty clear that he was a lone gunman jihadi who targeted the gay community.

omar mateen gay victims

A vigil for the 49 victims of Omar Mateen. (governortomwolf/Flickr)

Both the tremendous loss of life and the image of Mateen as hateful have spurred tens of thousands of people around the country and the world to express sympathy and solidarity with the Orlando victims and to stand for tolerance and acceptance and against hate.

orlando vigil

A vigil for the Orlando victims in London. (alisdare1/Flickr)

But this isn't the whole story. Because Omar Mateen may have been gay himself.

Here's the evidence that Mateen may have been gay

And if not closeted, then at least questioning his sexuality. Here's the evidence.

1. He asked out a male classmate. Ten years ago, Mateen was in a police academy, and a classmate of his says Mateen asked him out and that they went to gay clubs together.

2. He hung out at Pulse for years. Several regulars at Pulse say they got to know Omar Mateen, who went to Pulse many times over the past three years. They remembered him being friendly but also getting very drunk and complaining angrily about his family and father.

Another Pulse regular says he had observed Mateen hitting on men there.

And a friend from high school who is a drag queen says Mateen hung out with him comfortably and that they may even have gone to drag shows together.

3. He may have used gay dating apps. A man named Kevin West told cops he recognized Mateen--because they'd connected on a gay dating app called Jack'd, which calls itself "the largest and fastest growing dating app for guys looking to meet guys."

West says he even recognized Mateen at Pulse on Saturday night before the shooting.

Another man says he blocked Mateen on the app Grindr because he was being "creepy."

UPDATE: The story about Mateen using Jack'd may not be true. The feds are investigating his possible use of Jack'd and Grindr.

4. His ex-wife suspected he was gay. Mateen's first wife (he apparently remarried and had a son with his second wife) has said, hesitantly, that there were signs that he may have been gay or at least confused about his sexuality.

Does this mean the shooting isn't a hate crime--or an act of terrorism?

No. If Mateen was a closeted gay man or questioning his sexuality, we'll never know for sure because he was killed by police when they stormed Pulse to save the lives of his hostages. And even if we did know for sure, the shooting can still qualify as both a hate crime and a terrorist attack.

Despite what some people are saying on social media, not every mass shooting is a terrorist attack. Terrorism is, by definition, a violent act motivated by ideology, religion, or politics.

The FBI is taking very seriously the fact that Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS, even though they didn't train him, order him, or support him in any way. And the feds had investigated Mateen before for ties to terrorism.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Mateen could have chosen any location to carry out his horrible plans. He even may have considered Disney World as a target. But the place he took his semi-automatic assault rifle was the Pulse nightclub, a gay hotspot. It's absolutely possible to be both gay or questioning and also biased against LGBTQs.

A brief history of closeted men being anti-gay

If you've ever studied Freud, you know the term reaction formation--fighting against your true inner feelings by taking the opposite position in public, often in an exaggerated way. Psychologists say this process is at the root of a lot of homophobia. In other words, some men who are blazingly homophobic are actually repressing their attraction to other men, usually because they feel ashamed.

This can take many forms, ranging from loudly expressing disgust at gays to actively fighting against gay rights to carrying out hate crimes.

Some closeted people in denial about their own sexuality, or fighting against it, even feel threatened by openly gay people and take it out on them violently.

After the attacks, Mateen's father--who, let's remember, Mateen had angrily complained about at Pulse--denounced his son's attack ... and then said he believes God punishes homosexuals.

So here's what we know about Omar Mateen

Omar Mateen was a complicated guy:

- He was the child of immigrants from Afghanistan, born and raised in America, and he was Muslim, though family members say they didn't see signs that he was extreme or fanatical.

- He had exhibited anger and violence--his ex-wife says he beat her.

- He was investigated by the FBI for terrorism and was put on the terrorism watch list a couple of years ago.

- And he may well have been gay, especially given that frequented at least one gay club--the very club where he killed 49 people in the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

What this means is that simple labels like "monster" and "evil" and "hateful"--and "lone wolf jihadi" and "radical Islamic terrorist"--clearly don't tell the whole story here.

We still lost 49 innocent people in a mass shooting that will never make sense. Fifty, if you include Omar Mateen himself.

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Was Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen Gay? And If So, Does It Change Anything?

Holly Epstein Ojalvo

Holly’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower engaged activists who will change the world. She was previously an editor at The New York Times and a high school teacher. She spent her brief 20’s slump at a mousepad factory. Holly earned a B.A. at Lafayette College and M.A.'s at U Delaware and NYU. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and cat, Tomie Twotone. Follow: @heoj.

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