Several things went through my mind after reading breaking news that a gunman had opened fire inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando late Saturday night. The pain of knowing that so many of my gay brothers and sisters (and straight allies) had their revelry and existences so violently taken from them. Being unsure if an old friend was still living in the city and, if so, still living. The futile pondering of what ultimately drains someone of their last drop of humanity and makes them fully load a military-style weapon. And the images of a gay nightclub blowing up with deadly results—specifically, Babylon, the central nightclub of Showtime’s former LGBT series Queer as Folk, the site of terrorism in a 2005 episode.
I always thought of former Miracle Mile Shops nightclub Krave as our Babylon, and on many occasions I walked through its doors (and even those of other nightclubs) with that fictional terrorist attack flashing in my head, accompanied by the subsequent what-ifs and mental strategizing. It was a morbidity I couldn’t shake, especially when local gay spots the Garage and Share each experienced shootings on their premises. But still, I patronized all those places, mostly because I wouldn’t allow such flashbacks and shootings to scare me back into hiding. I had fought too hard for the (self-)liberation that enabled me to be gay to the world—to truly be me.
On Sunday, I had to continue being me, as did my boyfriend and many other gay folks in the city. So once we stopped talking and reading about the tragedy in Orlando, my other half and I headed to Luxor and its LGBT-themed Temptation pool party. I wasn’t surprised to see it packed with so many fellow gay men, because that’s what we do: rally and celebrate in large numbers, throw our drinks in the face of anything threatening our freedom and take advantage of every opportunity to wear minimal and/or revealing clothing around each other. However, I didn’t expect to see as much security as I did: the usual pool and Luxor-badged guards—in larger numbers—joined by the ones on borrow from Excalibur and lots of Metro cops, bomb-sniffing dogs included.
It was later revealed that Metro officers had been frequenting gay meeting spots (and mosques) throughout the day, including the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, where an event that evening drew more than 600 people. It had been billed as a prayer vigil, but once it began, its organizer, state Sen. Pat Spearman, reminded the packed room that it was also a “call to action,” and that aspect colored the tone of the evening’s speakers far more than the somber one—though a candle-illuminated vigil under the night sky followed an hour later.
Indigo Valley Church Pastor Charlotte Morgan led the audience in a spirited chant—“It’s time to act up, show up, participate, end hate!”—that seemed to reference the AIDS-era Act Up advocacy group. Popular social-media messages of the day were worked into the program. “We need acts over talking,” state Sen. Aaron Ford urged. “We’re beyond thoughts and prayers,” County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said early in his railings against the type of violent behavior and assault rifles involved in the Orlando killings. In fact, nearly every speaker mentioned the need for gun control laws. The applause that usually followed indicated that most of the crowd had already moved from sadness to anger, and no one dared tell them to be otherwise.
Except Mayor Carolyn Goodman. She insisted from the beginning of her tone-deaf speech that gun laws needn’t change—hardly assuaging words to a large group grieving the fatal shootings of 49 people within their tribe and scarred by decades of violent homophobia. No matter her point, this was not a night for rebutting a community that leaders were ultimately trying to console. And yet she still repeated her “laws are in place” stance anyway, rattling on about responsibility and politicizing a tragedy despite her tweet hours later accusing the audience of the same thing. The 400 or so inside the room became so audibly upset that their boos drowned the mayor out until her abrupt exit, which happened not a moment too soon.
Thankfully, state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson transitioned the crowd from boos to silence when he introduced the human element to the discussion of gun violence (which robbed him of his father years ago). Assemblyman James Healey—another out public figure—passionately but measuredly addressed the also-timely subjects of mental health and the gay blood ban. Chaplain Sandy Marks successfully fused the personal and the news of the day with the admission that he’d “seen the damage that an AR-15 can do. I’ve been there … I’ve been devastated.”
If the proceedings indoors were light on remembrances of the murdered, it was mostly due to the late release of their names and ages on Sunday night, as well as the natural lack of people at the Vegas event personally connected to those who died 2,300 miles away. However, former state Sen. Justin Jones tearfully recounted the story of his brother-in-law’s partner’s best friend, Ian, who had overcome the rejection of his family members after revealing his true self, only to be killed early Sunday morning inside Pulse.
I would say that Sen. Jones’ tribute to Ian reminded me and everyone else why we had gathered in the first place, but we were there for many reasons: to be sad, angry, mournful, safe, engaged, loving, reflective, unafraid, hopeful and together—all the ways a persevering community can and must be.