Vigil at the Stonewall Inn for victims of the Orlando massacre. (206701)
Credit: Pedro F. Jorge

Upon hearing the news about the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, I was immediately saddened. As a Black gay man I had been to Orlando many times over the past several years on vacation with friends. Going to the famed Parliament House gay resort in Orlando is a sort of unofficial rite of passage for many gay men, and going to Pulse is often part of the itinerary.

However, the fact that the deadliest shooting in modern American history occurred not only in a city I’ve grown to love but also to a community I belong to in a “safe space” put me on edge. To the LGBT community, gay bars and clubs are a haven where we not only can meet people but also can be ourselves. While the world continues to adjust to aspects of the gay life, within the walls of a gay bar or club we can be who we are without ridicule or shame.

As the names of the victims were released, I came to realize that I had a connection to so many of them through friends and associates who I met in Orlando on past trips. As close-knit as the LGBT community is, it was no surprise to me that friends told me they knew someone who was killed or hurt during the massacre.

To members of the LGBT community in Orlando, and an even smaller number of Black LGBT, Pulse is one of the few places where gay people can go. Unlike in New York City, which has a plethora of places, among the family friendly theme parks and conservative political atmosphere, the few gay clubs serve as a place of solace in Orlando.

I myself had only been to Pulse once or twice during trips to Orlando with friends. As I’ve gotten older my club days have become slightly less frequent. However, every now and then, especially if I am on vacation, I get the urge to dance alongside like-minded people and let loose.

The many times I’ve been to a gay club or bar, the last thing on my mind was someone coming in and inflicting harm on me and my friends. I cannot fathom the fear that these people felt as those horrifying minutes ticked by in Pulse.

To many heterosexuals, gay club life is only seen through movies and television as stereotypical places with flashing lights, loud thumping house music and effeminate men and drag queens prancing and twirling around. While this impression might be a general view, gay clubs are more than just a party. They are a sort of shelter for the gay community to come together to celebrate our lives and not worry about being judged.

The massacre in Orlando not only affected the more than 100 victims who were either killed or injured and their families, but also affected the LGBT community as a whole. The fact that someone who allegedly had so much hate for gay people (or for himself according to some reports) that he would go into a gay club where he knew he could take out so many is beyond terrifying.

In many cases, clubs and bars are the only place and time, particularly in smaller cities, where an LGBT person feels comfortable in his or her own skin. The Orlando massacre has now threatened the sanctity of these spaces.

As a Black gay man, I often tell people that before anything, I am a Black man, and that being a gay man is part of who I am but not my entire identity. The Orlando massacre had a profound impact on me. The fact that many of the victims were so young and just entering their adult lives hurt me the most. As America moves toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community, these young people will never be able to experience many of the liberties generations before them were denied because of their sexuality.

As news coverage continues, the mainstream world is getting view of many of the struggles that those in the LGBT community go through and the fact that hate for being gay is still alive and well. What the world must know is that these victims paid the ultimate price simply for being who they are.