Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., a city long seen as a safe haven for the community, grimly changed the equation, stirring communal fears and swiftly prompting tighter security at gay-pride events.
NEW YORK — The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has seen violence before, from Harvey Milk to Matthew Shepard, and an ever-lengthening list of transgender women. But never anything like this.
Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., grimly changed the equation, stirring communal fears and swiftly prompting tighter security at gay-pride events.
The attack on the Pulse nightclub occurred amid numerous events nationwide celebrating LGBT Pride Month. In several other cities hosting events Sunday, authorities beefed up the police presence.
“Our practices and institutions may change in light of this tragedy — LGBT gathering places may have more security now,” said the Rev. Alisan Rowland, pastor of the LGBT-welcoming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. “But we will never, ever go away. We will never be cowed.”
Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said the continued vilification of LGBT people by their detractors, and the continued resistance to expansion of their civil rights, was “an invitation to violence.”
“When people are targeted by others who are scared of difference, they’re not safe when they go dancing, they’re not safe when they go out to pray,” she said. “If we live in a culture where fear of difference is encouraged, that can, in the hands of crazy people, have dreadful consequences.”
In 2015, the FBI reported that 18.6 percent of the 5,462 so-called single-bias hate crimes the previous year were attributable to sexual orientation; 47 percent were attributable to race.
Officials at the Human Rights Campaign said that while crimes against gay people are underreported, they had been struck by a recent spate of highly publicized assaults against sexual minorities. In Atlanta, a gay couple was doused with boiling water, causing severe burns, in March.
The same month, in Iowa, a transgender teen was murdered.
In Los Angeles, also in March, after a gay man was murdered by his father, the victim’s sisters asked the Los Angeles LGBT Center for help because they said their father was upset by his son’s orientation.
Sunday’s attack struck a place that has long been thought of as a safe haven for the community: a gay nightclub.
In previous attacks on gay nightclubs, only one caused a significant number of deaths. A fire set by an arsonist killed 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973; the arsonist was never caught.
On Dec. 31, 2013, about 750 people were celebrating New Year’s Eve at Neighbours, a popular gay nightclub in Seattle, when Musab Masmari poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured, and Masmari was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.
“Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter away from the judging glares of society, where we could love and be loved for who we are and how we want to be,” wrote Paul Raushenbush, a clergyman and popular gay writer, expressing his heartbreak in a lengthy, emotional post on Facebook in which he recalled going out dancing while at seminary in New York.
In many cities, vigils were planned at LGBT community centers and other gathering spots to commemorate the victims in Orlando. In New York, LGBT people and their allies converged on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in spontaneous reaction to the shooting. The Manhattan bar became a national symbol of gay rights after a 1969 police raid led to violent street riots.
“Gay bars and clubs are supposed to be our safe haven,” said Milack-Carrasco, 48, a store manager from Brooklyn. “I’ve never felt threatened here, but now I’m looking over my shoulder.”
Many gay bars added security measures, or considered doing so in the aftermath of the Orlando attack.
At eagleBOLT, a gay bar in Minneapolis, patrons watched big-screen TVs in silence as President Obama denounced the Orlando shooting as an “act of terror.”
James Parmenter, 28, from West St. Paul, Minn., said he comes to gay bars to relax.
“It just hurts me that a place like Pulse was targeted because people go there to feel safe,” he said. “You go out, you try to feel safe, and you try to have a good time, and now they seem like targets.”