After Orlando, We Cannot Give Up the Safe Sanctuary Of LGBTQ Clubs
The first time I walked into a gay club, I was a gawky teenager still struggling to figure myself out. For a year, I had been the only out gay person at my small town high school just far enough from the outskirts of Las Vegas to make the city over the hill feel a world away. My town was the kind of place where homophobia was as much a part of the curriculum as geometry, but then I got to go out.
The club, Krave, was nestled into the Las Vegas Strip, and it became my salvation from a world that wasn’t ready to accept me or the friends that I danced all night with. Far from the maze of gay bars and clubs in cities like New York, Krave was a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in Vegas. It was the kind of place where you were just as likely to see bulging men getting dollar bills stuffed into their speedos as you were to lipsync to Lady Gaga. It was a place to dance out all of the feelings of self-doubt and fear weighing you down.
A lot of people in the LGBTQ community seek refuge in nightlife, finding a place of acceptance in a world that isn’t always so kind. And then on Saturday night, a man whose name isn’t worth mentioning rented a van, bought an assault rifle and handgun, and drove to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL, with hate in his heart in order to commit the worst mass shooting in America since Wounded Knee in 1890. In the midst of Pride Month, and on the eve of the anniversary Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage that had filled the community with so much joy, fifty people who were attending the Pulse’s Latin Night never left the club. Fifty people who were just there to dance and enjoy the sanctuary that Pulse offered.
When President Obama released a statement yesterday of grief over what had happened, he said something that articulated the gravity of what had happened: “The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing and to live,” Obama noted. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.”
For a community that has spent so long hiding our identities and seeking out the small comfort of a safe space to express ourselves, there is often no better place than a gay bar or club. At a time when trans women are targeted and killed so frequently and the communities of color who identify as LGBTQ face overwhelming discrimination, events like Latin Night at Pulse become a beacon of hope. Their dance floors become a window into a better, more accepting world.
But not everyone is ready to peer through this window. They’d rather break the glass. As Michelangelo Signorile at The Huffington Post explained, LGBTQ bars and clubs have long been the targets of hatred. From the infamous Stonewall Inn riots in 1969 to the firebombing of a Seattle nightclub in 2013, places where the LGBTQ community gather to simply be themselves and swirl along to the music aren’t always as safe as we’d like them to be.
Over the next few days, details about the shooter and arguments about gun control and Islamophobia will flood news outlets and take over your News Feed, but we cannot forget that this was not just a terrorist attack. It was the deadly response to a man whose homophobia and intolerance led him to target the one place where LGBTQ people go to feel safe. As we mend the deep wound in our community, it’s important to remember that in the face of unspeakable tragedy, we cannot live in fear. It’s important to go out and dance our hearts out no matter where we are.
Years ago, I discovered the power that comes with a dancefloor and the freedom to express myself and nobody can take that away. As New York nightlife hostess Ladyfag said last night to a room full of people dancing in defiance at Flash Factory’s Battle Hymn party: “This is a queer space, and you are all welcome. Straight people, gay people, lesbians, cis, trans, black, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, old, new, rich, young. This is your fucking home.”
Stay tuned to Milk for more coverage of this developing story.
Featured image via Alexis Dibiasio