One month after Pulse, fear not deterring LGBT community
The Republican Party might revise its platform with 'equality language' in mind. Video provided by Newsy
Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of the following story misspelled Dmitry Steesy's first name. An accompanying photo was also updated to correct who photographed the image.
WASHINGTON – Beyoncé. Sangria. And a conversation about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
For a group of friends in Washington, D.C.’s gay community, two of these things are welcome additions to a Saturday night get-together before going out.
The other: A stark reminder of the persecution that LGBT people regularly face, even before the June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, a shooting that left 49 victims dead and 53 injured.
In Orlando that Saturday night, LGBT people and allies packed Pulse to grab a drink, dance with friends, meet someone new – and express themselves in a place they felt safe.
One month later, fear isn't stopping these D.C. friends from going to clubs just like Pulse, places they still see as safe havens and centers for their community. Town Danceboutique, Washington's largest gay dance club, and Nellie’s Sports Bar, an LGBT hot spot so packed you can barely move, are the destinations for this group on a Saturday night.
“Places like Town and Nellie’s have taken on a whole new meaning. And I appreciate that, and they’re very important,” D.C. resident John Welch, 28, says.
Still, while anxiety is not deterring clubgoers, the shooting continues to send ripples through the LGBT community and beyond.
The Pulse massacre hit Orlando during Pride month, one of the most important times for the LGBT community. For LGBT people and their allies, Pride is a time to come together without fear of discrimination or hate to celebrate identity. During June’s festivities, many LGBT bars and nightclubs saw increased attendance not only for Pride but also in solidarity with the victims and survivors.
“It made me want to go out more. It did not make me afraid. I’m still not afraid to go out,” Bobby Mainville, 22, says as he and his friends get ready in a West End apartment in D.C.
David Cooley, owner of the Abbey, a large nightclub in Los Angeles, said the day after the shooting his bar was packed.
“Good times or bad times, people are coming to the Abbey,” he said. The Abbey staff and customers had a moment of silence for the Orlando victims that Sunday and have held fundraisers to support survivors and victims’ families.
Patrons of the Abbey did notice something different after Orlando: armed guards, a new addition to the club's security measures that Cooley said will be in effect indefinitely.
Many LGBT bars and nightclubs across the nation have also increased security.
Neighbours Nightclub in Seattle is no stranger to violence. After an attempted bombing in 1990 and an arson in 2014, the club continues to fortify its safety standards.
During Pride weekend this year, Neighbours hired guards who were carrying concealed weapons. The club has also established multiple entry checkpoints in recent years that all patrons must pass through, increasing the number of employees who interact with customers.
Neighbours will host a training session later this month on active shooter situations. Shaun Knittel, spokesperson for the club, explained that the training will simulate a shooting scenario with the lights off and music on while someone with a toy gun plays the role of the assailant.
In D.C., patron safety has long been a concern of the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association, and Town, a member of the group, has not increased security measures due to existing precautions already in place, said co-owner Ed Bailey.
“All establishments in the District are equally concerned about safety and security of guests and patrons of local establishments,” said Mark Lee, executive director of the association.
Dmitry Steesy, 22, and his friends say these measures, old and new, have been welcome sights in D.C.
“It’s been somewhat gratifying to see … visible security, very overt security at Town and these clubs,” Steesy says, “In a way, even if it’s psychological that we feel safer going there, I think it is important.”
While physical safety remains a concern for many bars, continuing the tradition of LGBT clubs serving as community safe spaces is equally important to owners and customers.
Christopher Barrett Politan, executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance, said that Boystown, an LGBT neighborhood in Chicago, and its bars and restaurants serve as places where members of the community can gather to celebrate their identities.
“There is no one archetype. Gay bars have so often been that place where differentiation has been celebrated,” Barrett Politan said. “They were these options to go and meet other kin and live their most authentic selves.”
Historically, LGBT bars and clubs have served as organizing centers for the community before any formal organizations existed, according to historian Nicholas Syrett, who co-chairs the Committee on LGBT History, an affiliate of the American Historical Association. Gay bars were the only place that many LGBT people could meet and discuss issues they face without fear of backlash or hate, Syrett said.
“They were places that people could go when there existed no such thing as community centers and support groups,” Syrett said. “It is a place to feel utterly like oneself without disguise or pretending to be something one has to be in the outside world.”
For many, the fact that the Orlando shooting took place at a safe space like Pulse hit home that much more.
“It was no accident that he shot Pulse,” Sam Alleman, 21, says in D.C. “I feel like a lot people hear like ‘Oh it’s a gay bar, it’s just a bar,’ but for the LGBT community, those places have been institutions for our community to come together and be together.”
Battling bigotry and guns
After Orlando, large segments of the LGBT community have begun focusing their advocacy efforts on gun control legislation.
“People that are very obsessed with (guns) have something to idolize. The rest of us are left with graves, caskets, funerals. There’s nothing sexy about that,” Welch says.
“This could be a good steppingstone to call out all these mass shootings that are happening that aren’t really too reported in the media,” Timon Fleiter, 22, says. “There were a lot of people that died that night. It wasn’t just gays. It was just whatever was in the firing line.”
However, some see the push for gun laws as not getting to the root of the problem: hate.
Steesy, a gun owner himself who also supports legislation such as a ban on gun sales for people on the FBI’s no-fly list, thinks that addressing the causes of the Pulse massacre is necessary for the community to move forward. “This was hate and bigotry and ignorance that led to this,” he says. “And guns were definitely the ammo so to speak that lead to this tragedy, but it was fueled by absolute hate.”
Bailey, speaking on behalf of the Town ownership group, hopes that moving forward, the push for full LGBT equality remains at the forefront of the community's efforts.
"We will continue to create and maintain our own safe places. We will continue to love who we love. And, we will continue to ask that our country join us in these pursuits. And then, maybe, LGBTQ bars and nightclubs can be just a place to party."
The D.C. friends all agree that unity is one good that can come out of the Pulse tragedy.
“If anything like this happens in the future, I think since the gay community has been affected now, if it’s any other community, we as a whole would be there to support them in their time of need,” Fleiter says. “We are an all-inclusive community.”
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