Orlando, The Stonewall Riots And The History Of Attacks On Gay Nightclubs Illustrate The Intersectionality Of Homophobia In America

From this morning’s horrific Orlando nightclub shooting to the legendary Stonewall Riots that sparked a revolution in LGBTQ rights and activism in America nearly a half century ago, there is an unfortunate history of violent attacks against the LGBTQ community in what is typically their safest enclave – the gay nightclub. The fact that these attacks come from parties as diverse as an alleged ISIL agent to the police themselves at one time illustrates that when it comes to the queer community, vulnerability is intersectional.

The Orlando Shooting

At about 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Omer Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle and a pistol and opened fire. He killed 50 people and injured at least 53 others, the incident ending in a three-hour standoff before he was taken down by a SWAT team. It was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.

As reported by CNN, although he was American-born, Mateen has alleged ties to ISIS. As the standoff dragged out to a three-hour ordeal for the patrons left trapped inside, Mateen allegedly called 911 to pledge allegiance to the Islamic extremist organization. President Obama’s remarks to the nation from the White House are quoted by CNN.

“We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate.”

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The Stonewall Riots

As details of the attack began to emerge, CBS reports that New York City’s LGBTQ community began to gather at the legendary Stonewall Inn in the city’s West Village.

The Stonewall Inn is symbolic in the American struggle for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. During the 1960s – at a time when practicing homosexuality was a crime in the state of New York – the club was a focal point for the underground LGBTQ scene. On June 28, 1969, the NYPD raided the club in a move that quickly turned violent as the club’s patrons fought back. The fights escalated into riots against the police and their actions against the gay community throughout Greenwich Village that lasted for days and sparked the beginning of LGBTQ activism in the U.S.

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Attacks on gay nightclubs

While police actions against the LGBTQ community may have evolved over the last five decades, as reported in USA Today, there have been at least five other violent attacks on the patrons of gay nightclubs and bars in the United States since 1973 alone.

On June 24, 1973, 32 people were killed by what was believed to be arson at the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in the famous French Quarter of New Orleans. Unfortunately, iron bars guarding the front windows from burglary also trapped most of the bar’s clients inside the blazing building. The perpetrator remains unknown.

On February 21, 1997, Eric Rudolph – who would later gain infamy after being discovered as the bomber who killed one and injured 111 at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics – wounded five people when he set off an explosive at the Otherside Lounge, a largely gay and lesbian nightclub.

On September 22, 2000, a man named Ronald Gay – a native of Canada who later told police he was tired of being taunted because of his last name – killed a man when he opened fire in a gay nightclub in Roanoke, Virginia.

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On March 1, 2009, three teenagers attacked clients inside a gay bar in Galveston, Texas. As one held open the door, the other two hurled large rocks and chunks of concrete chunks at the patrons inside. One victim suffered a laceration to the head that required 12 stitches.

On New Year’s Eve, 2013, about 750 patrons of a gay nightclub in Seattle panicked when an arsonist doused the stairs with gasoline and attempted to light the club on fire. The blaze was put out without injuries, although the would-be arsonist was later caught and sentenced to a decade in jail.

Near attack in California?

As reported in the Daily Mail, police in Santa Monica arrested a 20-year old man on Sunday with three assault rifles, high capacity magazines and the makings of a DIY explosive. Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez of the Santa Monica Police Department spoke to Reuters.

“The suspect did make an initial statement to the effect that he was going to go to the pride festival.”

An alleged American-born Daesh terrorist, a middle-aged Canadian, violent American teenagers, the police force – the LGBTQ community has found itself under attack from a broad cross-section of the rest of society. As more details about the Orlando gay nightclub shooting emerge over the next few days, it seems clear that the fight against homophobia that began with the Stonewall riots must include an intersectional approach.

[Image by esfera/Shutterstock]