LGBTQ patrons and bar owners expressed community resilience and concerns for their safety in response to the June massacre at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Leaving 49 people dead, it was one of the worst gun shootings in U.S. history and deeply impacted a space some consider safe and sacred.
"They're more than just bars. They're really a place where people start to identify," patron Mark Blacklow told NBC OUT.
During Pride weekend, patrons at New York City gay bars expressed their condolences. They told NBC OUT they now worry for their own safety since the Orlando shooting. "There has been a little bit of fear in the community," said patron Joselie. She said she now pays attention to her surroundings for any potential threats.
LGBTQ bars have historically been a space of self-discovery and community building, but also a site of violence. "For the LGBT community, bars have always been a place where we've felt safe," said Stacy Lentz, co-owner of The Stonewall Inn, to NBC OUT. The 1969 Stonewall riots, during which police raided the bar, and the demonstrations thereafter are considered the first major protests to demand equal rights.
Patron Jenny Romaine, who describes gay bars as a place of liberation and joy, said she never feels safe as a queer person. Since the attack, Romaine goes to bars to discourage people from blaming Islam for the massacre.
Lentz was devastated to hear about the Orlando shooting, telling NBC OUT that it shows homophobic hate still exists. "All the LGBT bars are trying to create queer safe spaces," said Lentz. "Knowing that could happen made you think."
LGBTQ bar owners re-evaluated their security and protection of bar-goers and staff. "For the first week, I just couldn't get it out of my mind," said Rob Hynds, co-owner of Boxers. Going to gay bars, Hynds said, made him feel less alone when he was growing up. "How do we make our people safer, our staff, everybody safer?"
Many patrons did not support the increased security because they said extra police do not make them feel safer. Some told NBC OUT community members are protecting each other and that people are coming together empowered in the face of fear.
"We're going to be here, we're going to support each other," said Joselie. "We're family and that's what it's all about, love."