Orlando Shooting: Help Victims of Anti-LGBTQ Hate

Last night, a lone gunman committed the single largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, targeting the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida. At least 50 people were killed and more than 50 hospitalized when a man open fired at Pulse nightclub using an AR-15 assault rifle – a weapon commonly deployed by mass shooters of late.

As authorities pursue leads pertaining to the gunman’s ideology and political orientation, the nation grieves for the victims of the Orlando shooting, killed at a popular gay bar while celebrating the nationally-recognized gay pride month.

According to media outlets, the perpetrator’s father remarked that his son was angered at the sight of two men kissing. This horrific act of violence reminds us of the lingering societal danger of homophobia. Gay rights victories notwithstanding, the LGBTQ community is still vulnerable to the malice and caprice of bigoted individuals and hate groups.

Discussions regarding religious fanaticism and the seemingly endless torrent of gun violence in the United States are sure to follow. The way forward from this tragedy is uncertain. But there are ways that you can help immediately.

Equality Florida – the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organizations started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the victims. Consider donating to not only lessen the tremendous burden on the victims and their families, but also to express solidarity against the wicked hate that precipitated this heinous act.

After Cincinnati Zoo Incident, Finger Pointing but Few Answers

On Saturday, May 28, a three-year old boy fell into the moat of the gorilla exhibit at the famed Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, resulting in a tragedy that has sparked intense passion and finger-pointing but few answers as to what should be done.

After the child fell into the exhibit, a 400-pound 17-year old gorilla named Harambe investigated and engaged with the boy. Whether or not the gorilla was attempting to protect or harshly play with the child – a distinction around which much online debate has emerged – the giant primate did drag the boy forcefully, leading to the Zoo’s decision to kill the gorilla before any serious harm could be done.

Authorities deemed a non-lethal approach, such as using a tranquilizer, too risky as the time that the desired effect would take would allow the agitated Harambe to lash out.  The celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna is one of many industry professionals who have come out in support of the Cincinnati Zoo’s actions.

Other conservation experts contend that there were alternatives, as Ian Redmond of the UK-based Gorilla Organisation explained to The Guardian:

Was a lethal shot the only option? No, I don’t think so. Were other options tried? You could have offered the gorilla more fruit than he could ever normally imagine in one sitting and then the boy would have become less interesting to him. It seemed like no one was prepared to go into the enclosure.

The one thing that people can seem to agree on it that someone is to blame – the big question is who.

Many online commentators were quick to denounce the child’s mother, calling her egregiously neglectful. Witnesses on the scene have claimed that moments before the child fell into the exhibit they overheard him comment to his mother that he wanted to enter the moat.

This anecdotal evidence has thrown fuel on the fire of outrage engulfing the internet. One change.org petition called “Justice for Harambe” has already received nearly 500,000 signatures and goes as far as to call for authorities to investigate the family’s home life, as well as for the mother to be held accountable – whatever exactly that means.

Other commentators, including Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, have derided the simplistic blame levied against the boy’s family, remarking that “all the internet outrage in the world won’t bring Harambe back, or make a hard decision a simple one.”

Whether a response to the public’s outcry or the result of carefully considered facts, Cincinnati police announced on Tuesday that they would investigate the boy’s family and not the safety protocols of the zoo.

While the ease with which the child was able to enter to the enclosure does ring some alarms over zoo security, the fact remains that this is a first for the nearly 150-year old zoo. At the end of the day, zoos pose inherent issues when bringing human spectators face-to-face with wildlife in tight spaces.

Perhaps a better channel for people’s passion is to do something proactive rather then chastise and attack a Cincinnati-area family, no matter how cathartic that may be. There are a number of excellent conservation nonprofits, such as those listed below, that could benefit from the support of those eager to keep endangered species – including silver back gorillas like Harambe – alive for generations to come.

The Nature Conservancy 

World Wildlife Fund

Natural Resources Defense Council

The Sierra Club

Conservation International

Terror in Brussels: How to Help

(Brussels, Belgium)

Today’s harrowing attacks in Brussels, Belgium are yet another reminder of how far we have to go for the cause of peace. While details emerge, the cold hard reality of the loss of life is certain. Instead of responding with gloom in the face of terror, however, we can respond with humanity.

Considering giving to the Red Cross of Belgium as it triages the disaster on the ground, supporting victims and providing vital care. Also consider donating to the Foundation for Peace – an organization that supports victims of terror.

If you are in Brussels, there are a number of places to donate blood. Residents have been deploying the hashtags #OpenHouse and #IkWilHelpen to offer shelter for those stuck outside during the government-mandated lockdown.

The terror in Brussels will not be the last tragedy of its kind, but the response it provokes can move us down a path to eradicating such wanton hate and violence.

In Wake of Slayings, Reflecting on Courage of Aid Workers

Humanitarian organizations and their workers face many dangers. Their work often pulls them into crisis zones that pose safety risks outside of the human experience or understanding of many average donors and nonprofit workers.

In particularly tragic circumstances, these risks can prove fatal.

On June 2, seven Afghan employees of the Czech nonprofit People in Need (PIN) and two guards were shot and killed, some in their sleep. Assailants attacked one of the NGO’s compounds in Northern Afghanistan. Local officials blamed the Taliban for the attack.

PIN has operated in Afghanistan since 2001. According to the organization’s website, the group’s operations are “based on the ideas of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity.”

Just two weeks prior to the tragedy, another horrific attack transpired in Kabul, in which the Taliban attacked a guesthouse popular with foreign aid workers. Fourteen individuals were killed, including a British citizen who worked for the British Council, a U.S. Citizen, four Indian nationals, two Pakistanis, and an Italian citizen.

Over the past year, a host of tragic slayings of humanitarian workers occurred in territories controlled by the pseudo-state ISIS. In February, Kayla Mueller – a 26-year old U.S. citizen – was slain by ISIS after being held for 18 months. Another U.S. citizen (and also former solider) Peter Kassig was executed in November of 2014. In September of last year, British citizen and aid worker David Haines was killed by ISIS.

These tragedies are a jarring reminder of the extreme situations that require humanitarian aid. Driven by a desire to ameliorate others’ suffering, humanitarian workers deserve recognition not only for their selflessness, but also their immense courage.

Fundamentally tied to the conditions of suffering that aid organizations work to alleviate, the violence that claimed these brave lives only reenforces the import of humanitarian work in these regions. Without stable communities fostering peace, extremism only worsens, claiming more innocent lives.

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