Working through #Orlando and The Symbolic Importance of Gay Bars











Yesterday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be snowballs, a jumping castle, and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play.  The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details. There was some slight talk at the event and I had at least two interactions with folks that they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and reservation were previously made to attend. I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for…but now I wonder. Dont get me wrong these reservations were made weeks ago…but here NOLA we still have closed family FB groups, and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.

My initial thoughts regarding Orlando were that this was some serious hate and I was sure it was planned and planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and the death toll was rising.

There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but for me I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community to my FB friends and family. No doubt there would be a back lash coming that would judge the gay bar and blaming the victims–based on sexual orientation, lifestyle, and even just being at a bar.  The post lead to many responses to me personally via messages, texts, and also shares and from friends I haven’t spoken to in years. As such, I thought maybe I should share it here too with a few minor edits:

My post was spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz:





I don’t usually write this sort of thing..esp on FB but…I feel compelled to comment today.

I tried to find a link to the gay night club mass shooting that wasn’t linked with terrorism but in any case, I really just wanted to make note of a couple sentiments that I think make this particularly impactful for the lgbt community including but not limited to the fact that this took place during Pride month and at a bar.

For many gay bars were and are, even though we love to make fun of them or dismiss them within the community or rarely go to them, the most accessible safe spaces for us. They have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community–and just knowing they are there is powerful. Having access to safe spaces, and then not, or to now to be scared, because something has happened in your “house”…and during your holiday or time of celebration. I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but on a day like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.

Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script this means you likely weren’t taught the skills, or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia while you were growing up or from your family. And, living in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out and in the next moments many of those things are wiped away. To then have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is…just because of a few words you said out loud. And, I am not even going to get into dealing with changes in relationships–friends, family, coworkers, whatever.

I had an amazing coming out and was so lucky that I didn’t lose those I cared about, but til this day I can say I also never came out to 2 people that I loved deeply because of that fear. Maybe I will tell my friend now since I am sure she knows as we are Facebook friends although we never speak of it. The other was my grandmother who is no longer with us…but I am pretty sure she knows.

Mural at Mary's


Some recommended reads and viewing:

The Long, Tragic History of Violence at LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in America

The Upstairs Lounge Fire: The Little Known Story of the Largest Killing of Gays in US History

Documentary: Small Town Gay Bar (2006)

Documentary: Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (2005)

Documentary: Stonewall Upraising (2010)

A Feel Good Movie for Pride: Pride (2014)





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