At first, the reactions were only subtly different: expressions of horror and sadness, thoughts, and prayers. But in the hours after Omar Siddiqui Mateen opened fire at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, killing 50 and injuring 53 others, different political interpretations began to emerge. Politicians, advocates, and religious leaders were united in rejecting the violence. But faced with untangling the many layers of the attack—that it happened at a gay bar on its Latin dance night; that the killer had allegedly made a pledge to ISIS; that the he used an assault rifle, and chose to execute his attack during the month of both gay-pride celebrations and Ramadan—political leaders stood apart, seemingly poised for the policy fights that are bound to come in the days and weeks to come.
Among Republicans and other conservative leaders, few specifically mentioned the fact the attacks happened at a gay club, nor did they express solidarity with the gay community. Some, like Marco Rubio, addressed the issue, but in hedged language: “He targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community about the gay community,” the Florida senator, a Catholic who has opposed public-accommodations protections for LGBT Americans, said on CNN. He did not mention the LGBT community in his official statement. The Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore was more direct with his empathy: “Let’s realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn’t be?” he wrote in an article for Time. “Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them. We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism.”