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As support mounts for Orlando victims, undercurrent of hate surfaces on social media

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With the outpouring of support in Orlando, Florida, the nation and the world over the massacre of 49 innocent victims inside a nightclub over the weekend, an undercurrent of hatred and ignorance bubbled to the surface across the social media spectrum.

The vitriol stretched the First Amendment right of everyone in this country to freedom of speech and expression which at times has had to bite its lip over unpopular speech to preserve that right.

To be sure, most of the civilized world stands behind the LGBT community as it mourns its members taken in the savage assault at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning by a lone gunman who himself was shot to death by police.

Overwhelmingly, people of all persuasions pledged support, pray and donate money to help the families of those killed and those wounded in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Still, there was this nagging bigotry that surfaced on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Jonathan tweeted this: “Florida Pulse gay club attacked I’m so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people.”

Pkay tweeted: “The only good thing about the Orlando shooting is that it was a gay club. So less gays in the world today.”

Chaasad wrote this on Twitter: “I wake up to some dude shooting up a gay nightclub. Isn’t that weird. Homosexuality is condemned by god, so that’s why we let that happen.”

Vitor: “At least it was just gays this time and not innocent people.”

And the list goes on. Some fundamentalist preachers also chimed in, like Steven Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, whose anti-gay rant on YouTube was pulled after a day.

“That blows my mind,” he said in a rant about YouTube scrubbing his anti-gay rant. “The vast majority of Christians are brainwashed by the media.”

The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, the congregation that protests soldier funerals because of the U.S. military’s policy on gay troops, tweeted: “GOD SENT THE SHOOTER.”

And a Baptist preacher in Sacramento, California, delivered this line in a sermon Sunday morning and shared it on Facebook, hours after the massacre took place:

“Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No … I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida’s a little safer tonight.”

Equality Florida spokeswoman Ida Eskamani, speaking from her office in Orlando, said the grieving gay community is aware of the online bashing and blame-the-victim rhetoric.

“Hate and intolerance is nothing new to the LGBTQ community,” she said. “These actions perpetuate the horrific act that occurred Sunday morning.

“But, we as a community are committed to choosing love over hate to heal our city,” she said. “Again, for members of the LGBT community … hate and intolerance has been with us for decades.”

Equality Florida is the largest civil rights advocate for the LGBT community in Florida. When the organization set up a GoFundMe account to help pay funeral expenses for those killed over the weekend and medical expenses for those wounded, records were broken. More than $4.2 million has been pledged by nearly 100,000 donors from across the globe. The money was raised in just a 72-hour span.

That itself speaks louder than the hateful rhetoric out there bashing the LGBT community, Eskamani said.

People do have rights, and can pretty much say and post whatever opinions they wish, she said. She has noticed, though, that under those posts, commenters often refute the unfounded hatred as being bigoted and ignorant.

“It is the responsibility of those in the room or on the blog to call out these people,” she said, “and encourage love, inclusion and compassion. It’s about holding people accountable, and we see that going on.

“This hate is part of a national narrative,” Eskamani said. “We have seen it before, and we need to continue to face it with love.”

With a 38-year career in journalism behind him, Keith Morelli now writes about medical marijuana and the politics of pot in Florida. He began his career as a news editor with a weekly paper in Zephyrhills and his last gig was with The Tampa Tribune, which folded unceremoniously in May. While there, Morelli was general assignment reporter for the Metro section, writing a wide variety of pieces ranging from obituaries, to crime, to red tide, panthers and city government. In between those jobs, he spent nine years as a bureau chief for the Ocala Star-Banner.

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