Like many in the LGBT community, Ed Bailey found it hard to stomach the FBI’s recent conclusion that the Pulse Orlando shooter was not targeting gays.
“While we may never know what was truly in the heart of the shooter, any assumption that LGBT people were not the ‘target’ is irresponsible and in my own opinion impossible to say,” said Bailey, co-owner with John Guggenmos of one of Washington DC’s most prominent gay nightclubs, Town Danceboutique.
“Whether he was himself gay or not, is irrelevant,” said Bailey. “He chose to shoot and kill LGBT people — and maybe he had come to the conclusion that gay people are ‘sinners’ or maybe he just hated himself — either way, it all stems from the same homophobic place.”
Bailey was speaking a few days after a benefit evening held at his club to raise funds for the families of Pulse victims. Under the auspices of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, cast members of the visiting national tour of the musical, The Bridges of Madison County, performed numbers from the show and others, to a small, but receptive audience.
Bailey’s criticism is apt, because the investigation was conducted on the wrong premise. The question the FBI should have been asking is “Can we prove that Mateen was not targeting gays,” not “Can we prove that he was?” After all, the man shot up a gay nightclub. That’s a pretty big clue.
But this is not how things go. Big polluters don’t have to prove that they are not responsible for poisoning people. The poisoned invariably have to prove it was the big polluter who sickened them. The burden of proof falls on those affected to show they were deliberately victimized. Instead, we should apply the Precautionary Principle.
And so it was with Pulse. It’s obviously preposterous to imagine that Mateen just wandered into Pulse by chance and didn’t notice it was a gay venue (particularly as there is plenty of evidence that he had been there before). He chose it, and that should have been the starting premise of the federal investigation.
Wandering into Town on a pleasant Monday evening to watch the Bridges cabaret, begged another question: how has the atmosphere inside the club been post-Pulse? On that evening it was cheerful and intimate, with no sense of apprehension among the guests. But then it was not a typical evening at Town. Or was it?
“To my personal surprise, the numbers at the clubs in DC are up after the tragedy in Orlando,” said Bailey. “The shooting happened on DC’s Pride weekend, so, normally, our numbers would be down following a big weekend like Pride, and then adding the presumption that people might be a little nervous about attending a big club, we anticipated lower turnouts in June and July,” he added.
“To our heart warming surprise, the numbers have been higher than normal. I’ve heard the same from other bar owners in DC. It is so inspiring to feel as though everyone has stood up and said ‘I’m not afraid’ and ‘I need to go out and be with my community,’” he concluded.
The theme for the Bridges evening, taken straight from the musical’s lyrics, was particularly timely and resonant — “Love is always better.”
This worked especially well, recalled cast member Amy Linden, when the tour hit North Carolina. It caused some soul-searching, but being able to belt out “love is always better” in the lion’s den of discrimination felt like the right thing to do.
Broadway Cares, as Bridges cast member, Cole Burden explained, is an agile entity that responds on its feet to current needs. For example, in the past it has given money to victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, and can respond quickly wherever there is a call for help.
But after Pulse, and the disappointing FBI report, many in the LGBT community continue to feel that their own calls for help are not being heard.
“As politicians and lawmakers work to enforce a sense that LGBT people are less than full citizens by continuing to deny us general, common protections and rights that all other Americans enjoy, they are only working to validate the violence that befalls our community,” said Bailey.