Pulse — the gay nightclub in Orlando where 49 people died from bullets fired by Omar Mateen on Sunday – could have been Talbott Street.
That Florida nightclub, where one out of every three people in attendance was either wounded or killed, could have been English Ivy's.
501 Eagle. Metro. Zonie's Closet.
Anywhere LGBTQ people gather to feel protected and supported.
That's the reality of mass shootings in modern America: the sobering knowledge that your church, school
, doctor's office
or favorite place to dance
could be the next place swarmed with blood, screams and grief after someone battling demons and ensconced in hate picks up a gun and carries it into a place where vulnerable people go to feel safe. Pulse, it should be noted, was hosting a Latin night on Saturday, and many of the wounded and dead were Hispanic.
RELATED: Arts editor Emily Taylor on the importance of safe spaces for queer people
We're in the part of the national tragedy news reporting process where complicated portraits of the people involved are revealed. Shortly before our print deadline, reports emerged that Omar Mateen was a regular at Pulse, as well as a user of at least one gay dating app. Mateen was an American-born man of Afghani heritage who swore allegiance to ISIL, allegedly abused his now ex-wife, spewed virulent homophobic words and perhaps identified as gay himself.
It's complicated, no matter how external and simply anti-American
our presidential candidate(s) attempt to spin this massacre.
This attack puts a host of vulnerable populations in the political crosshairs: LGBTQ Americans; Hispanic Americans; Muslim Americans. What's most important now is how the vulnerable communities impacted by this tragedy pick up the pieces.
NUVO invited staff at local LGBTQ clubs to submit their thoughts on Orlando, and where we go from here.
Kyle Casteel, English Ivy's:
I've been struggling all day to find the words I feel are most important for me to contribute to today's outpouring of emotions and thoughts about the tragedy in .
It's no secret that I work in a gay bar. I have served at English Ivy's for the lion's share of three years. What a lot of people don't know is that Ivy's was the first place I ever worked. I moved to Indianapolis with no money and no plan. I didn't know anyone outside my apartment. And I'd never worked a day in my life.
Ivy's didn't care. They took a chance on a weird little gay boy from a nowhere town, and it turned out to be one of the most pivotal moments of my life. My experience there has surrounded me with a community and family that could have been attained no other way. It has shaped me as a person. I have come and gone more than once, but it is my home.
Our community was born in the bars. Everyone knows the story of Stonewall. It is the foundation of our identity and our movement. It is impossible to overstate the fact that even though it is now much easier for many members of the queer community to go into any bar they want, our bars remain our own and for many they truly are the only space they can be their authentic selves. In our bars, we embrace one another. We trust one another. As a people, we love one another.
For many, including myself, the bars and the people in them are our families. These homes, the people in them, are sometimes the only place we feel that we belong.
It is an unspeakable affront to that sense of belonging that in June, the very month we set aside to honor and celebrate our heritage, a man full of hate invaded one of our bars, our safe spaces, and took the lives of 49 beautiful human beings. In a season of fun and festivals, we must now take time to mourn what is not only another international tragedy, but what is also an assault on the very idea that it is possible for queer folks to be who they are without fear.
I wish I could say I was not afraid. Sadly I think that may never be true again. But I am proud. I am proud of seeing my community make the choice today, sometimes without saying a word, to stand together against the fear. We have done it before. We did it at Stonewall. We did it when Harvey Milk was shot. We did it to achieve nationwide marriage equality. And now we will do it again, to repair the bonds of a community that were shattered by a gunman's bullets, and to forge new bonds of solidarity to help ensure this act of hate will not be just another entry in our country's long, tragic history with gun violence.
I will never stop being proud. I know that together we are unbreakable. The queer community will never be silenced, least of all by acts of violence and hate. We were forged in that fire. They can never take our homes from us, as long as we have each other.
In the coming days, we will learn the names and stories of the 49 people that were taken from us. We will never forget them. We will work together to stand up for them, to be their voice. To protect and advocate for them in the way that only family can. And we will have pride for them. And we will live for them.
Do not try to come for us in our homes. We will dance harder. We will turn the music up louder. We will never, ever stop loving each other. We will belong.
Bill Skaggs, speaking on behalf of management at Talbott Street:
Years ago, gay clubs and bars had to board up their windows to make it safe for the LGTBQ community. Lately, those bars are opening their windows up to tell the community we don’t have to hide any more, and it is still a safe place. What happened in Orlando was a tragedy and it scares us that it could have happened in any gay club.
This act of terror was meant to make our community feel unsafe in places we have worked so hard to keep as safe places. Talbott Street was created as a place that welcomes everyone, no matter their race, creed and orientation. Having our allies here is important to us too. On some nights Talbott Street has more straight allies in the bar than any other group.
(Slideshow) Talbott Street Drag Races
Last night's "Drag Races" at Talbott Street had some very lovely ladies competing as part of a Theater on the Square fundraiser.
Click to View 10 slides
Our amazing entertainers are connected to other entertainers all over the world and we have all been personally affected by this devastating act of hate. One of our entertainers, Vicki St. James, took to her Facebook page after the event to let our patrons know where all the exits are in Talbott Street. Our staff cares about our patrons like family because in some cases they are our family. People’s lives are all different, but in the LGBTQ community we get to choose our family and that’s what makes us so strong.
There are some unspoken rules about other communities visiting gay clubs and to be honest, we’ve struggled with that for some time. If you’re going to come into a space that is a safe haven and a place where people are free to be who they are, you have to respect that space and the community that is there.
The LGBTQ community has always had to fight. This is not the first attack on our community and it won’t be the last. We are stronger than terror and love will always win.
Right now we can’t be scared. We can’t be scared to go out and be with our families, real or chosen. While a majority of people worry about the possibility of sharing a bathroom, our community has to worry about being killed for simply existing.
Owners and staff of 501 Eagle:
Everyone at the 501 Eagle is deeply shocked, horrified and outraged about the Orlando mass shooting. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. To do our part and include our patrons, along with other bars [on Sunday evening], we will be turning our main lights on (in our otherwise dimly lit venues) and our music off, at 10 p.m. for 5 minutes to show that we are a visible part of society, and that we stand with those affected by this senseless act that has touched our community, and our nation.
Ruth Hawkins, Manager at Metro:
Saturday night, my family and I were celebrating. We had just hosted a very successful after Pride party, had our largest sales day in our 25 year history, and we were on Cloud 9. In the hours before, our house had been full of people celebrating their right to be out and proud in America. We were both excited and exhausted. Hosting a party that large is hard work, but we did it together, and we were basking in that fact. At about the same time that we were celebrating our success, there were people who were at their home bar with their friends, who never expected that when they entered the doors of that club, that their lives would be forever changed.
Gay bars have a very important history to our community. For many years, they have represented safety and comfort, and the ability to be authentically you without judgement. Those places are few and far between. As a consequence, when you find one of these places, you hold tight to that place, and it becomes your home away from home. The people there become your family. The furniture becomes as familiar to you as your own bed.
That’s what Metro has become to me and to the rest of my employees and customers. This is our home. It’s where we’re able to spend time with our family in a place where no one will judge us based on who we are or how we live our lives. The people that walk through the doors of this business every day have become my family. When my partner and I were in a terrible car accident in December, and she was horribly injured, our Metro family walked through that hell with us, and held our hands the entire way. This is a place where strangers become friends, and where friends become family.
I’ve never been to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I do know gay bars, however. I’ve been working in gay bars for the past 11 years, and I’ve made it my career. We’re all linked by a common purpose and mission. Ask anyone who works in one, and they’ll tell you that part of the reason for their existence is to give people a place where they can be themselves without scrutiny. So when an armed gunman brought a weapon into Pulse, he wasn’t attacking a business, he was attacking someone’s home, and killing their family. I can’t imagine receiving that phone call in the middle of the night. The phone call that says that someone murdered 50 members of your family. The thought alone is something out of a horror movie.
That’s why the LGBTQIA community is taking this so hard. This was an attack on our family. This was an attack on our sense of self, and our comfort and security in a place that is supposed to be a safe haven. If you’ve ever wondered why persons who had been attacked and persecuted on a regular basis rose up to defend the Stonewall Inn, the answer is simple. They were protecting their home, and defending their family.
When I awoke Sunday morning to this terrible news, I felt a sense of disbelief and disconnection. No one wants to believe that someone out there hates your enough to commit murder simply based on who you choose to love. When I walked to the Murat to attend the vigil for the victims, I was still in business mode, checking to make sure my employees were okay, and making sure that everything was in place for a successful day.
Shortly before entering the Egyptian Room, I hopped onto Facebook to check on some friends from Orlando, and I saw a post from one of our regular customers who made the comment that this could have happened at Metro. That this could just as easily been our family who was waking up to this incredible loss. She then went on to mention my kids by name, and how awful it would have been if we were the ones mourning the loss of our family. All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Somehow, in my head, I had decided that something like this could never happen at Metro. But the kids working and playing at Pulse probably had never even considered the possibility that someone would attack their safe haven either.
NUVONightCrawler: Talbott St. and Metro Nightclub
Check out pictures from last week's edition of NUVO NightCrawler!
Click to View 15 slides
My job as a bar manager is simple. I help run the business, manage inventory, set policy and organize the employees. My job as a gay bar manager is more complex. I met my mentors here. People who have become my parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. I have been coming to Metro since I was 22 years old. I’m a preacher’s kid, so my coming out process was pretty rough. The people here took care of me. They helped raise me to be the person I have become. When I started working here, my managers were my examples of how to learn to love yourself as a gay person. I cannot overstate their importance to my life. Now I have kids that I’m helping to raise, I take that responsibility seriously, because these people are my family.
That’s what happened on Saturday. Someone’s family and home were attacked. A person decided that because someone loved differently than they, that those humans deserved to die. There’s been a lot of talk about ISIS and terrorism. I’m not sure how all of that fits in. All I know that a person who was motivated by anger attacked someone’s safe space.
We as a community are still in shock and disbelief. An inevitable next reaction is anger, which is both normal and expected. I think, however, that it’s most important for us as a community to care for our kids. They need to be reassured right now that despite witnessing this kind of hatred, there are still people that love and support them. Our family was attacked by hatred. The cure for hatred is love.
To our allies and supporters, we give our thanks. It was so amazing after RFRA to see all the Open Service signs popping up everywhere. It’s nice to be made aware that there are people on our side. We need that once again. As humans, we have a hard time asking for help. But we need it now more than ever. A fight for equality is a fight that is never-ending. This tragic event was a glaring reminder of the work that we have yet to do. I don’t want my kids to have to live in a world where choosing to live their truth is a death sentence.
Every human yearns to be part of a community where they are accepted and comfortable in being who they are. That community becomes your family. Places like Metro become people’s homes. I know this for a fact, because it’s mine. Pulse was someone’s home. This is the real tragedy. This is what has been violated. This is what we now have to reclaim. Because if we give that up…hate wins.
Management at Zonie's Closet
At this time Zonie's Closet is feeling the same as everyone, utterly shocked & saddened. All we can hope for is that the family and friends of those hurt or lost, can feel the warmth of our prayers and arms around them.