Monday, June 20, 2016

Kissing & Bars: Orlando mass shooting struck a gay sanctuary

"If you can't wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you've probably never been afraid to hold someone's hand in public," wrote Jeramey Kraatz in one of the more astute of social media quotes that has swept the internet since the mass murder of 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

That first step inside a gay bar, that first kiss between two girls, that first sighting of a trans or drag performer, are rites of passage for most of us, whether magical or awkward. It's a part of coming out and coming of age.

But for two men, one who shot 100 people, killing half of them in Orlando, and another who was caught before bombing Los Angeles Pride, their own internalized homophobia turned outward to violence.

What they may not have expected was the resultant outpouring of compassion and anger from around the world.

(republished from my essay in the Bay Area Reporter, June 16, 2016)
Homophobia and Tragedy
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and his 32-year-old boyfriend, Christopher "Drew" Leinonen (photo above), were among the 49 people who lost their lives June 12 in one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

As reported by JoeMyGod, services still need to be planned by the distraught families, but they want the two to be side-by-side when loved ones bid farewell, said Guerrero's father, who has the same name as his son.

"I think my son wanted to do that. That's why," the elder Juan Ramon Guerrero, 61, said through tears. "I don't care what the people think. I don't care."

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez was at Pulse Sunday morning with his partner, Oscar Aracena, who was also killed in the shooting. Also among the dead are a mother of 11 who twice survived cancer, a 31-year-old drag king and DJ, and young Latino and Latina people who were simply having a night out.

In the aftermath, it was reported that crime scene investigators had to 'tune out' the cacophony of ringing phones coming from bodies still strewn about the scene of the massacre.

A GoFundMe account has been raised for Guerrero and Leinonen 's funeral, and the main fund ( has raised more than four million dollars in just a few days, with the Walt Disney Company donating $1 million.

In Los Angeles, in a separate thwarted mass killing, James Wesley Howell, from Indiana, had a trunk full of explosives and weapons. He planned to attack Pride celebrations held this past Sunday, and according to reports, had a history of violent crimes, including threats against his ex-boyfriend.

Yes, he is gay. And so was the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, according to multiple sources. That this is not surprising indicates how familiar many of us are with deeply closeted people, mostly men, who lash out in acts of homophobia because of their own fear and self-hatred.
The difference between a single gaybashing and this crime is guns; high-powered assault weapons that have no place anywhere outside of a war zone.

But when a gay nightclub becomes a war zone, will LGBTQ people stand up against the rightwing Republicans ­–and even some Democrats­– who continue to cowtow to their maniacal NRA lobbyists and allow the readily available assault weapons to kill more?
Even the governor of Florida refused to admit that the massacre was directed at LGBT people. This deliberate omission, like so many others from hypocritical religious and political loudmouths, is another form of homophobia in a country where the survivors of the Pulse mass murder could be fired from their jobs for being gay.

(photo) Pulse nightclub's logo, with an added white ribbon.

As Michelango Signorile wrote for Huffington Post, "Hate crimes against LGBT people haven't dissipated since the arrival of marriage equality and have in fact been on the rise in recent years. Whatever [Mateen]'s other beliefs or allegiances, that bedrock of homophobia is part of what drove him to carry out a brutal mass shooting. This terrible tragedy is a reminder of the threat of violence against LGBT every day, and why we must always remain vigilant."

But vigilant how? More than 100 gun murders took place in the past week, and more than a thousand this year.

While we find fault with our elected officials for repeatedly failing to change laws –and the antiquated Second Amendment– we do find acknowledgment of our struggle from around the corner to The White House.

"The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is 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." – President Barack Obama

Toxic Masculinity and Violence
Gun violence has targeted everybody from schoolchildren, to black churchgoers, to Sikhs, to military bases. The myth that armed civilians could have done anything to stop them is absurd.

Amanda Marcotte's article focuses on the troubling growth of violent masculine aggression.

"The idea that a bunch of drunk people dancing around a nightclub are safer with loaded weapons on their bodies is clearly not coming from a rational place, but from a place of deep insecurity and gender weirdness that treats phallic symbols like they are magical totems," she wrote.

"Our country is saturated in guns, and yet the mythical 'good guy with a gun' who is promised to stop mass shootings has yet to actually produce himself. That is because the 'good guy with a gun' is a myth, propped up to justify toxic masculinity's obsession with guns, and nothing more."

In response to an SF Gate article about the killer's "complicated" past, author Armistead Maupin wrote, "Is it really that complicated? The most viciously anti-gay people often turn out to be closet cases, whether they're crazed killers or Republican congressmen. That's what self-loathing does."

photo: A composite of the 49 shooting victims at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Since many of us have experiences of antigay violence, of abuse from families, religion and politicians, is it so unthinkable? We like to think of our bars as a safe space, but violent crimes, muggings and gay-bashings occur in the Castro and South of Market districts on a weekly basis. And the gay-friendly DNA Lounge only last week had a (thankfully false) bomb threat.

Still, we cling to the hope that we can continue to create our own spaces. Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, since 2004, has been a beacon of love and support for the LGBTQ community. Its owner, Barbara Poma, is one of the Orlando LGBT community's biggest allies, a fact evidenced by the story behind Pulse Nightclub.

Last year, Florida Agenda included Poma on its list of LGBT people in the state of Florida who are influential game-changers. Poma is one of the few, if not the only, straight allies included on the list. In 1991, Barbara Poma's older brother John, who had introduced her to Fort Lauderdale's club scene, succumbed to his battle with AIDS. In honor of him, she opened Orlando's Pulse Nightclub with business partner Ron Legler.

The value of such spaces has become a focus as well.

Gay Latino author Justin Torres wrote an eloquent essay for The Washington Post about the significance of Latin Nights at gay nightclubs.

"You know what the opposite of Latin Night at the Queer Club is? Another Day in Straight White America. So when you walk into the club, if you're lucky, it feels expansive. 'Safe space' is a cliché, overused and exhausted in our discourse, but the fact remains that a sense of safety transforms the body, transforms the spirit. So many of us walk through the world without it. So when you walk through the door and it's a salsa beat, and brown bodies, queer bodies, all writhing in some fake smoke and strobing lights, no matter how cool, how detached, how over-it you think you are, Latin Night at the Queer Club breaks your cool. You can't help but smile, this is for you, for us."

San Francisco vigil June 12
Local Vigils among Hundreds Worldwide
At the solemn vigil held in the heart of the Castro district on June 12, former state Assembly member Tom Ammiano had harsh words for what he described as "laissez-faire homophobia" and the National Rifle Association.

"NRA? 'National Real Assholes.' Is that a gun in your pocket? 'Cause I'm not happy to see you. You know, I'm old, I'm queer, I'm weary and I'm full of gay blood," he said. "But we are going to fight back and continue, and continue and continue. This all started with a kiss. A simple but pure act of intimacy. So let's have a kiss."

Ammiano then shared kisses with both Mayor Ed Lee (who was booed during his speech) and Interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin, on the lips, to wild cheers.

Local media host Michelle Meow pointed out the omissions that surround the community targeted, and also how People of Color were slighted at the vigil, even when the majority of victims were Latino.

"A majority of the names have been released of those who were murdered at Pulse in Orlando and they are mainly Latinx or Latino. The Latinx/Latino community also needs our support and solidarity. I don't know what happened at the SF Vigil, I was just happy that community was coming together during a tragic time.

"Have we displaced so many Latino people in this city that they don't exist in our minds anymore? Many thanks to Latinx leaders like Sup. David Campos, Isa Noyola, Bobbi Lopez who pushed their way onto the platform to speak. The Latino community is grieving/mourning too. Please don't add to the erasure/invisibility of LGBTQI people of color." 

photo: The June 12 vigil in Orlando, Florida.

Local gay poet and architect Alan Martinez spoke at the San Francisco vigil, and in an expanded Facebook-posted version of his speech, raised the issue of guns.

"Why is the NRA fighting so hard to protect the right to own assault weapons? We all know what this is really about. There is a certain element of the American population that is reserving its 'right' to declare civil war on Latinos.

"There is a certain element of the American population that is reserving its 'right' to declare civil war on Black people. There is a certain element of the population that is reserving its 'right' to declare war on queers. There is a certain element of the population that is reserving its 'right' to intimidate, subjugate and terrorize women with violence and threats of violence."

Despite the violent acts committed, around the world peaceful demonstrations prevailed. Thousands turned out on Monday night for vigils. From Amsterdam to London, Omaha to Orlando itself, mostly quiet rituals were observed. New York City's Sheridan Square also saw thousands attend, amid a chant, "What do we want? "Gun control!" "When do we want it? "Now!" Many also booed NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton for his department's recent police abuses and shootings.

One has to wonder if that maniac ever thought he would inspire so many towards unity, that thousands upon thousands would gather to reject his contorted self-hatred turned violently outward, and turn it around to light up Sydney Harbor and the Eiffel Tower in rainbow colors.

Curt Janka's photos of people kissing in the Castro.
Smaller yet effective reactions were captured by local designer Curt Janka, whose ongoing Facebook album of people kissing in the Castro also includes straight people.

"A kiss should never be something to be feared," he wrote. "Love is always good. Love conquers hate. Let's flood the internet and media with positive displays of love. Thank you to all the folks on the street that helped me spread love. Not everyone shown is a couple or even LGBTQ, but the smiles I got for even asking them to participate lifted my heart in ways I cannot explain."

Janka, like many others, is spreading the word through kissing photos and social media hashtags #SpreadLove, #TwoMenKissing and #TwoWomenKissing.

Voices of Nightlife
People in our nightlife community were among the most outspoken.

Justime, a local DJ whose monthly Oakland events aspire toward a safe queer space, wrote, "Each one of us is reliving the bullying, the murders, the suicides, the AIDS epidemic, the transphobia and loss that continually plagues our people. Western and American imperialism is destroying our world. We are led to believe in the myth of power above all 
else, with its xenophobic and capitalist agenda."

"Please do not lose faith in humanity," he added. "Our fight will be won with love, kindness, compassion and healing. The world needs us two-spirit shamans. Please do not be complacent. Be as queer and non-conforming as you can possibly be and spread your love from the mountains of Tennessee and the dance floors of New York City to people all around the world. Revel in your faggotry."

Juanita More, a nightlife icon in the Bay Area, wrote in her group email, "It's easy to feel powerless in the face of such a massive tragedy. Many people have reached out to me asking what they can do to help. One thing you can do is show support for the local LGBTQ community in Orlando."

More linked a list of Orlando-based and national organizations on Huffington Post.
"I also urge everyone to share how you feel about the deaths in Orlando with your family, friends, even the person in line at the grocery store. Share the love you have for your community. Share your coming out story. The world must hear your story. It must know that we exist. It must know that we are made of love."

Flowers and candles at the Homo Monument in Amsterdam 
Flowers and candles at the Homo Monument in Amsterdam on June 12. photo: Hans Verhoeven

Justin Vivian Bond, whose first incarnations of queer cabaret rose from the bars of San Francisco and on to global fame, wrote a stirring call for resilience.
"Fuck the terrorists, religious extremists, forces of oppression and their spiritual sickness. They are a death cult. Our response is and always has been to love, laugh, sing, and live on! I'm writing this with tears in my eyes but I know they'll dry and we will never be defeated.
"Bless those whose lives were so brutally taken this weekend, bless their lovers and their families, and we are all their families. This is not over and we will never quit being who we are fiercely, proudly and joyously. We rage, we rise, we never forget. Live life to the fullest every day you can and love radically. Love as radically and hard as possible. Blessed be."

Therapist and part-time bartender and nightclub dancer Aram Kirakoshian wrote with a word that may seem harsh to some, but which, for others, is a form of defiant claiming, a rage against the failed attempts at oppression.

"I AM A FAGGOT, and I have never been more proud to be a FUCKING FAGGOT," he wrote. "You will never take that away from me. Not with guns, not with hate, not with fear, and not with fear-mongering. Happy Pride, my brothers and sisters. I love you, I hurt with you, and I will dance with you till the fucking bitter end."

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