Advocates see LGBT rights at a watershed after shooting

Members of the LGBT community participate in a vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub shooting and hate crimes in San Salvador
Members of the LGBT community participate in a vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub shooting and hate crimes in San Salvador, El Salvador June 18, 2016. Courtesy of REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

ORLANDO, Florida — In the days following the slayings of 49 people at a gay nightclub, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community pulled together in prayer vigils and benefit drag shows and basked in a broad showing of support many said they had never experienced.

For Victor Guanchez, that support was personified in President Barack Obama, who met Thursday with survivors at a sports arena in downtown Orlando. Guanchez, 24, was working at Pulse early Sunday when the shooter came in. He was hit in a leg but survived by diving under the bar he tended.

With his right foot in a walking cast, Guanchez attempted to stand as the president approached. Obama told him it wasn’t necessary, that Guanchez was strong and would recover well.

Guanchez said he was encouraged by the visit and the wave of well wishes he had received from around the world. He said he hoped the response would be a turning point for the way Americans view LGBT people.

“Everybody has their own mind. But with the, we are just one mind. And that will change everything, I think,” said Guanchez, speaking Friday from a hospital bed, a blanket draped over his legs.

Whether the groundswell of compassion Guanchez felt translates into change is unclear. The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history will be closely followed by the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that gay marriage is a constitutional right. LGBT advocates, taking stock this week, said the push for equality was far from over.

Job bias based on sexual orientation remains legal in many states. Some businesses are pushing for laws allowing them to reject LGBT customers.

And the most recent Justice Department survey found 57,000 people who said they were victims of sexual orientation-based hate crimes in 2014.

“Most Americans don’t realize how many of these crimes there are,” said Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an advocacy group.

Beth Littrell, an attorney with the Lambda Legal advocacy organization, said it was a precarious period.

“The anti-LGBT rhetoric that has erupted since the marriage decision inevitably fuels the kinds of actions and prejudice that lead to tragedies,” she said.

People “who have relied on the law to keep minorities in their place no longer have the law to treat them unequally,” she said, “and if the law can’t discriminate, sometimes people take it into their own hands to enforce discrimination.”

Littrell said Lambda Legal was pushing for state and federal legislation workplace protections.

“We’re fighting battles in every state in every legislature this session,” she said.


For Raymond Michael Sharpe, the massacre brought back memories of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which was dawning in 1983, the year he came out.

“It was devastating,” said Sharpe, 55. “All the bars got boycotted on and off for years because people thought that they were going to catch HIV from the bartenders.”

On Wednesday night in Orlando, the response to tragedy was very different at Southern Nights, another Orlando gay club where Sharpe works.

Hundreds packed in for a benefit to raise money for Pulse employees. Pulse founder Barbara Poma made an appearance, hugging supporters and lip syncing to “One Love” by David Guetta featuring Estelle, alongside more than 40 drag queens, some of whom had come from as far as Ohio and New York.

Sharpe noted that, for some, the response to the shooting and the ensuing support for the LGBT community in Orlando was hopeful and very personal: Some younger friends had come out on social media for the first time in the aftermath.

At the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida in Orlando, one of the people answering the telephones this week was Thalia Ainsley, 67, a veteran who enlisted because her family believed military service might “cure” her of identifying as a woman. She lost a leg in the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. After spending much of her life as a man deeply withdrawn, she began hormone therapy last year to transition to womanhood.

After the shooting, Ainsley said she fielded scores of calls at the center from LGBT people seeking counseling, a few hostile calls and far more from well wishers.

“It’s like the consciousness of the whole world is being lifted,” she said, “and the LGBT community is being seen as human beings now, instead of just an issue that people argue about.”

About the author

Jerome Socolovsky


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  • Freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are valid things. People in the private sector should be free to choose who they associate with. If they want to associate with lgbtq, they should be free to do so. But if they prefer to not associate with lgbtq, they should not be forced to.

  • Sure, just post this sign at your business: No blacks, no browns, no Jews, no gays, no Muslims, no Hindus, no Sikhs, no Buddhists, no atheists, no Catholics, no charismatic/Pentecostals, no Jehovah’s Witnesses, no Mormons, no atheists, no agnostics, no divorcee’s, no fornicators, no sinners, no remarried people, no Yankees, no lib’rulls, no Democrats, no Asians… and then you will need one more sign: GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE.

  • With all due respect to the friends and families of the Orlando incident:

    At this point in time in the world, Christians are the most persecuted – something you don’t see in newspapers and on television. Homosexuals make for good reading because it promotes their agenda, but:

    The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations.”

    Over the past year, I have written of the intolerance that Christians have shown to Muslims in the U.S. From Missouri to Murphreesboro, Christians have demonstrated both a lack of charity and a denial of the right to religious liberty by setting fire to old mosques and opposing new ones. But Christians in the U.S. are rank amateurs compared to the Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

    In early November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Christianity is “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Although met with predictable criticism, Rupert Short’s recent research report for Civitas UK confirms Merkel’s claim — we may not want to hear it, but Christianity is in peril, like no other religion. While this is a contest no one wants to win, Short shows that “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.” Short is the author of the recently published Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack. He is concerned that “200 million Christians (10 percent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

  • Gary, in this life I think you need to to get along with a wide variety of people. People with different ideas, even ideas that you find shocking, turn out to be quite ordinary in so many other ways. Here are a few things that non-Americans might find strange or shocking: support for the death penalty, opposition to a nationalised health system, opposition to the metric system, and support for the Second Amendment.

    Despite these strange and even shocking beliefs, Americans turn out to be quite regular people in so many ways. Now you say that people shouldn’t have to associate with LGPTIQ people. However, it’s nonsense! Some of the people you already deal with are probably in these categories, and you didn’t even notice!

    In normal social interactions, does it matter if someone is intersex? What if they are bisexual or gay or lesbian? Aren’t we all a little queer, whatever that might mean? Isn’t discriminating against those people like discriminating against the divorced, the unmarried, the physically or mentally disabled or those whose religious beliefs don’t accord with yours?

    Ordinary social interaction means getting on with a variety of people. I think you should relax, be friendly and not worry about it.

  • Very good replies, Rusty and Mglass. The variety of human beings is a wonderful thing and doesn’t need to be frightening. Yes, there are frightening people in each variety, including the ones you, Gary, are a member of. The only escape is crawling into the depths of a cave for the rest of your life.

    “The anti-LGBT rhetoric that has erupted since the marriage decision inevitably fuels the kinds of actions and prejudice that lead to tragedies.”
    Yep, words have consequences. The homophobes, bigots and haters have much to answer for.

  • After all, it’s not like most people want to jump your bones anyway. Statements like “…if they prefer to not associate with lgbtq,…” are what we in the behavioral health biz call “Freudian slips.” IOW, the writer seems so sexually obsessed that it’s all he can think of.

  • Your freedom of religion and association are not license to harm others. Discrimination in open commerce is a clearly recognizable harm both to the customer and to the public. It didn’t wash when racists made such claims to support discrimination in their businesses against blacks, it doesn’t now against gays. Its telling you are parroting THE EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS USED IN FAVOR OF SEGREGATION.

  • Freudian slip is “The gay lobby is forcing tolerance down our throats”. Or calling an ultra conservative and bigoted lobby group “Teabaggers”.

  • Segregation was alive and well for 75 years before it finally ended by judicial force. One cannot rely on the market to get people to do the right thing.

  • “Freedom of . . . freedom of . . .freedom of . . .”

    A notable number of TrueChristians are just a step-or-two away from the endgame by suggesting insisting that gay people are worthy of death (although they are usually careful to protect themselves from prosecution by saying that implementation is the government’s responsibility).

    These TrueChristians must be frustrated by witnessing how TrueIslam has already implemented the endgame: While some Islamic governments have often executed gay people, TrueIslam has now almost normalized a religious freedom obligation of individuals/groups to implement the killing of gay people.