Gay leaders call nightclub shooting an attack on 'our community'

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 14, 2016
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Walking through a Chicago airport on Sunday, it wasn’t merely the horrific massacre of 49 clubgoers at a gay bar in Orlando earlier that morning that reduced Christian Ulvert to tears.

It was how he heard a couple of fellow travelers characterizing the event.

“They said it was such a tragic event, but at least it wasn’t a school where children were, it was a club where gays hung out,” Ulvert, a gay Democratic political consultant said Monday. “That was a very painful moment. It was very hard to hold back the tears.”

The shooting deaths at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Downtown Orlando, has sparked outrage, grief and a global outpouring of support for the LGBT community.

Federal authorities say Omar Mateen, 29, acted alone, but, in the words of President Barack Obama, was “radicalized” by Islamic terrorists via the internet.

In the short time since the event, much of the analysis has focused on Mateen’s links with terrorists.

But while reeling from the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history, many LGBT people throughout Florida and the nation feel they’re being ignored.

“I think it’s pretty much gone viral that our political leaders not only in Florida but throughout the country need to say the words that this was an attack on our gay community,” said Ulvert, a Miami resident who has been married to his husband, Carlos Andrade, for three years. “You have to say those words.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Sunday, Obama called the shootings “an act of terror and an act of hate” that was “especially heartbreaking for all of our friends … who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

Gov. Rick Scott has talked about terrorism and expressed sorrow for the victims and their families. But he has made no references to the gay or LGBT component of the attack.

“This is clearly an attack on the LGBTQ community. It was clearly an attack on Latinos as well. A supermajority of the victims that have been named so far are young Latino men, most of them LGBTQ,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, governmental affairs director for Equality Florida, a gay-rights advocacy group.

“We have to remember that it is an attack on our community, which we have to call out for what it is — an anti-gay, anti-Latino, disgusting act of terror and hate,” Smith, a Democrat running for the state House in Orlando, said.

The timing of Sunday’s attack — during LGBT Pride month — was especially heart-wrenching.

But, many gay leaders viewed the shootings as an opportunity to strengthen the community.

“That’s the thing that this whole episode is never going to take away from the gay community. We pull together and then we become even more of a juggernaut,” said Susan Gage, a gay activist who lives in Tallahassee. “We’ve been hurt. We are crying. We are in pain. But we’re not backing down.”

Gage is a longtime member of Mickey Faust, a community theater group she said has been a “haven” for LGBT locals in the Tallahassee area.

The troupe’s Friday show will go on, Gage said.

Ulvert favored a “turn the other cheek” approach, despite hateful comments he said he viewed on social media accusing gays of being punished for their lifestyle.

“Our community has to be resilient and not show hate with hate, instead stick to what we’ve been doing, which is love will conquer,” he said. “It’s challenging, though, when you do go online and you see people commenting. I’ve stopped looking.”