If there is anything the Orlando shooting has taught us, it is that safe spaces should be more of a priority for everyone now more than ever before. Pulse, the nightclub which saw dozens of innocent people gunned down in cold blood, was one of those safe spaces, and now, that sense of security, particularly for the LGBT community, has been shattered.
Guardian notes that gay nightclubs were safe spaces designed to welcome everyone and to provide safe spaces to those in the LGBT community when in reality, particularly during the early days of the LGBT rights movement, there were not many safe spaces to be had. For some communities, these safe spaces have become legendary, but in reality, they have only been quietly interwoven with the other facets of any given community.
“You go to an unheralded place such as Pulse not to change the world, but to change your own, in incremental steps,” writer Paul Flynn remarks. “Slowly, that feeling of being yourself fans out and becomes infectious. Slowly, word travels. Slowly, change emerges.”
It can be really that simple — self-acceptance leading to acceptance of others and then, to a larger acceptance of the world around you. That’s what safe spaces like Pulse offered, and their clientele was not limited to the LGBT community; it was open to all, and both straight and gay people died that fateful night in Orlando.
Flynn also notes that, because safe spaces like Pulse exist, the men and women who tragically died the night of the shooting were unsung heroes, as they felt safe to walk the path that countless others had walked before them — a path that now has had its sense of safety broken.
Time notes that gay bars have been more than safe spaces for the LGBT community for decades, and have served as a haven where people could go and have their anonymity preserved, if they so chose. However, while much of society still tolerates gay nightclubs and bars, and there is a rising swell of acceptance of equality for those who identify along the LGBT spectrum, these safe spaces become places where those who wish to escape the judgment that is all too prevalent in 21st century society.
“Lost in stories about the rising tide of equality is the fact that being gay is, still, meaningfully different enough — both in how one is perceived by and in how one interacts with the world — to necessitate a place where one can enjoy being in public but break free of mainstream judgment,” says writer Daniel D’Addario.
D’Addario also writes that mourning for those gunned down during the Orlando shooting should have the right to have their memories honored in places that stood as safe spaces for those who simply wanted the right to live free from judgment and scrutiny.
“If there’s to be mourning for people slain for wanting to be gay in public—and there is, across America, in the days and weeks to come — let it happen at places built as bulwarks against the hatred of homosexuality,” he says. “We can’t abandon them yet.”
Barbara Poma saw Pulse as more than a “gay nightclub.” Founded in the memory of her late brother, John, Pulse represented everything about her brother, from his heartbeat to his spirit. She established the club in 2004 with her friend Ron Legler as a way of immortalizing her brother, who died from AIDS in 1991, and as a way of creating safe spaces for those who wanted to just be themselves without being scrutinized.
“Being raised in a strict Italian family, being gay was frowned upon. However, when John came out to his family and friends, the family dynamic transitioned from a culture of strict tradition to one of acceptance and love,” Pulse’s website says, according to New York Daily News.
There is a lot of talk about safe spaces when people are in high school or even elementary school, yet society as a whole sometimes forgets that even adults need safe spaces in which to be as they truly are. Pulse provided that, and while the investigation continues into the worst mass shooting in United States history, it is also important to remember that safe spaces need to be honored and held sacred, not just for members of the LGBT community, but for all of us.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)