If you’re LGBT, waking up to learn that the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history had happened the night before in a gay nightclub is akin to being a parent and reading about Sandy Hook, or being African-American and finding out that yet another black church has been burned down. The horror and sadness that kind of news unleashes in you lies outside the realm of language; it is terror. It’s as if the bloodshed that transpired in the moments after closing time at Pulse – a popular Orlando club that brought together men, women, whites, blacks and Latinos, as you can plainly see from the photos on its Facebook page – that robbed the lives of 50 people and injured over 50 more Sunday night took place in your soul. Opened by co-owner Barbara Poma as a means to promote Orlando’s LGBT community and honor her gay older brother who died of AIDS, Pulse will now be known to the world as the site of the worst U.S. hate crime since 9/11.
Since Stonewall and well before, gay clubs have been our schools, our places of worship. Nightclubs are where we’ve long learned to unlearn hate, and learn to become and love our real selves. They’re our safe spaces; places where music and dancing and the joy of our collective togetherness unlocks our fears and extinguishes our lingering self-loathing. This is why the first important public post-Stonewall gay disco in Manhattan was named Sanctuary; why one of the biggest and longest-running queer dancefloors of London is called Heaven; and why the most beloved current LGBT club in San Francisco is known as Oasis. For many who’ve never known the security of a truly secure and happy home or school or work life, these places are the homes and churches where we celebrate and extinguish despair with our families of choice.