‘Don’t fuel the hatred, let us mourn’: LGBT community gathers at gay bar to honor victims of Orlando shooting
Gravel crunched under feet as the crowd came out of the dark bar into the light of the midnight sun. Flames were passed from wick to wick, lighting candles for a vigil.
In the parking lot of popular gay bar Mad Myrna’s, a group gathered to mourn the victims of Sunday morning’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. One gravelly voice cut through the night.
“Today we stand together, stronger than ever,” RJ Johnson said. “Today we’re also afraid because we’re here at Myrna’s and one man caused the worst mass murder in America.”
Johnson, the bar’s marketing and promotion manager, briefly spoke about the seemingly endless struggles the LGBT community has faced throughout history including the pink triangle worn by gay people during the Holocaust, which is now a symbol worn with pride.
“We have come through worse times and we will go through worse times, but we will be here together as a community and as a family,” Johnson said.
A short prayer asking for peace and safety led to hugs and a call for drinks. People wiped their eyes with sleeves of their shirts, cashmere scarves and leather jackets, before making their way back into the bar.
It is within that space that Vicki Mason is in her element. Mason is the head of security at Mad Myrna’s, which is set to host scores of events during next week’s Alaska PrideFest.
While neither she nor bar manager Donna ‘Ma’ Langit could recall an incident worse than a bar fight, Mason said the shooting in Florida rattled her.
“It’s pretty intimidating. It definitely makes us tighten security during Pride week,” she said, adding they are taking extra precautions to protect their staff and the community.
Mason, who is a lesbian, said the bar is a place where misfits of all shapes and sizes have come to know as a safe place — and she plans to keep it that way. The security detail at Myrna’s all wears a leather vest over a bright pink shirt, she said, and anyone can approach them any time if they feel unsafe.
The culture of acceptance and serving as a community resource is something they’ve learned from their boss Jeff Wood, the women said. He has made strides to make sure the space is inclusive of many lifestyles. But even in the safety net, thousands of miles away, the effects of Sunday’s shooting rippled to Alaska.
“It scares me a little bit. I have friends and family in Orlando,” Mason said. “And luckily, they checked in safe.”
Her good fortune did not hold out for the entire crowd. Standing among the gathering, Bryan Bigelow’s whole body trembled during the vigil. When he spoke, the his words often trailed off.
“A couple hours ago, we were, I had 10 confirmed that we knew. We were still looking for seven,” Bigelow said. “And then, it went down to six.”
Another friend had been confirmed dead.
Bigelow explained he goes down to Florida to work in the winter, he had even worked at Pulse. Last week, he was in Orlando for the annual Gay Days festival.
“I just left there on Wednesday. I just saw some of these people last week. Some of these people I’ve known for years,” he said.
Sunday morning, Bigelow awoke to more than 25 messages and he immediately got on Facebook. Through the site’s Safety Check feature, he saw that a few friends were OK.
As hour after hour passed, he would learn the fate of his friends — 11 now officially among the casualties of gunman Omar Mateen. As phone calls and Facebook messages from their family members and partners came in, Bigelow was also flooded with mainstream news.
“It makes me even more disgusted that members of our society are using this to fuel anti-Muslim and political B.S.,” he said. “Not even everyone is identified yet and the majority of what you’re seeing is all this political crap. Just let us mourn for a minute.”
When asked what he thought could have been done differently, Bigelow said he didn’t think there was a way to plan or prevent this kind of tragedy.
“We are a target of hate and I’ll never understand why certain religions, or certain beliefs, or certain people,” he said, ending mid-thought. “But those aren’t the questions in my mind right now. The questions in my mind are, ‘Where are the other six people I know were there?’”
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