I was trying to get my head around the thing: what drives a man to shoot up a place full of people he’s never met, what happens in a crowded nightclub before dawn when the bullets start flying, what it might feel like to be part of a persecuted class of Americans.
“Gay bars are supposed to be safe, right?” I asked Dick Gray, our director of advertising.
“Gay bars are not exactly safe,” he said.
“Right,” I said, remembering some of the rooms on the lower end of the French Quarter, tough as any biker bar in town, and with some of the same clientele. “But it’s a safe place to be gay.”
He looked at me then the way everyone looks at me when I say something stupid.
“It’s never safe to be gay in America,” he said.
Lots of places have been shot up in the last 12 months in the United States: A black church. A Planned Parenthood clinic. A military recruiting center. A community college. A state-run clinic.
It’s worth pointing out that all of these shootings were perpetrated by American citizens with legal weaponry. But the problem here transcends gun control and fear of the other — though those are major tributaries to this river of violence flowing through our country.
The problem here and now is that my friend Dick — and all my other friends in the LGBT+ community — don’t feel safe being themselves in their own country, where they live and work and pay taxes, and where freedom is supposedly our most cherished value.[pullquote]“It’s never safe to be gay in America,” he said.[/pullquote]
Before Omar Mateen killed dozens of people in the Pulse nightclub, its patrons had been persecuted by their own state legislature: In 1977, Florida overturned a gay-rights law based on an effort by Save Our Children, an anti-gay group that successfully conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. The state senator who sponsored the bill said it was designed to say, “We are tired of you and wish you would go back in the closet.”
Twenty years later, the state passed a Defense of Marriage Act, denying same-sex couples basic American rights, and in 2008 passed a constitutional amendment affirming the position. Two years ago, the state approved criminal penalties for clerks who perform same-sex marriages.
Gay, queer and trans people have been under attack in Florida — and the rest of the country — for more than 40 years.
LGBT+ have never been safe. Only now are we starting to count the bodies.