‘Yes, I know.’
‘I’ve only just heard about it. I don’t watch the news. My friend called me to ask if I’d seen the news. She said you and Himself would know about it.’ Pause. ‘Do you and Himself go to gay night clubs?’
‘We used to, but not so much any more. We have friends who do. Lots of other gay people go to gay night clubs all the time, all over the world.’
On 12 June 2016 Omar Mateen, 29, killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando Florida, before he was shot dead by police. I read that Omar’s father said he’d become ‘very angry’ at seeing two men kissing in Miami recently. It has since emerged that Mateen had attended the night club previously on a number of occasions, drank and talked to other patrons of the club and then left.
The thing about being gay, I’ve found, is you spend most of your life checking yourself in public so you’re not too affectionate to your friends or boyfriend in case you get a comment or a look or worse a punch. I do this all the time, whether I’m meeting gay friends in a train station where I don’t kiss on the cheeks like I would if meeting a woman friend, or saying goodbye to my boyfriend on the Tube, where I just wave goodbye and don’t kiss him away.
As a gay man I’ve got used to that. I know I can’t hold my boyfriend’s hand in public outside of Soho or Brighton, without getting comments or worse. I accept that. It is the way of the world. Plus, I tend to attract attention for being gay without holding another man’s hands in public, so I’ve accepted this as the way things are. I’m not saying it’s right that I can’t hold hands in public, but the alternative of getting homophobic abuse assault is much worse, so as a pragmatist, I accept it.
I’ve had men in white vans shouting at me as I walked on the pavement. I’ve had people shout at me as I’ve driven around in my soft top sports car.
More than ten years ago, on a Tube journey crossing London late one Sunday night, a man sat opposite me on the tube, leaned forward, with his legs either side of mine and his hands on my thighs and then he started whispering what he thought about me, how disgusted he was by my gayness and what he wanted to do to me sexually. I froze to my seat because I couldn’t believe it was happening and listened to and when I realised no one else was close enough in the carriage to help, I stood and walked away. The man didn’t follow me, but I shook all the way back to my flat until I closed the door finally sure I was safe. Homophobia is everywhere. But it's not with everyone.
I know other gay men who are much more open about their public displays of affection then me. The two men kissing who apparently angered Omar were obviously being public about their displays of affection.
Does this mean gay people shouldn’t be affectionate in public?
Of course not. Everyone should be able to be themselves however they want, without causing harm to others. However, some people’s anger and disgust at simply how other people love is so all-encompassing that they have to resort to acts of violence in response.
Some people say there’s less need for gay bars and clubs with hook up apps and a more tolerant society but I disagree. Gay people go to gay bars and clubs for more than just to hook up with people – they go there to be themselves without fear of checking and holding back as I’ve described above.
Gay bars and clubs are our spaces where we can be ourselves unashamedly without worrying about a look or a comment. This is what makes the events in Orlando even worse. In the rest of the world, as a gay person, you kind of get used to being a bit savvy in public, watching yourself, and being careful where you sit or walk to avoid dodgy situations that could put yourself in danger. Of all the places you’d avoid, you wouldn’t include a gay club, because that’s your safe place.
There’s been some wishy washy commentary about how the attack wasn’t homophobic, how it was an attack on people enjoying themselves and dancing.
Twaddle. Bollocks. Nonsense.
An attack on a gay nightclub is an attack on gay people. Just like an attack on a synagogue would have been reported as an attack on Jewish people. Or an attack on a church would have been reported to be against Christians.
Gay people collect – congregate if you will – in gay night clubs. Simple as.
A gay club, even in an age of hook up apps, and the internet, is still our space. A space where you can be your flaming rainbow coloured gay self without having to apologise.
In 1999 The Admiran Duncan, a gay pub in London’s Soho, was bombed, in a deliberate attempt to target gay people. Three people were killed and about 70 people were injured. It was part of a series of race attacks by a Neo-Nazi on racially diverse areas of London – Brixton and Tower Hamlets ending with a gay pub in London’s gay area – Soho. This was undeniably targeted at gay people.
The thing about targeting gay people is you can’t just target gay people.
Gay people don’t live in splendid isolation.
Gay people touch everyone’s lives whether you want us to or not.
The Admiral Duncan attack killed Andrea Dykes, a pregnant woman, her friend and the best man at the wedding of Andrea and her husband. Even if you hate gay people the chances are through the three degrees of separation rule, you probably know one in your family or friends group.
The 49 people killed in Orlando isn’t just killing gay people, which is tragic enough, but it’s killing a little part of the gay people’s mums, dads, cousins, sisters, colleagues.
My thoughts are with the parents, friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters of the people killed and injured in Orlando.
What should we do in response to this?
Certainly, let’s not start with hate and blaming religion, or Mexicans, or guns, or mental health, or homophobia, or self-hatred.
Let’s respond with love. Love among the gay community. Love from the majority of straight people who get on fine with gay people.
Let’s also respond, as a gay community by carrying on and living our lives. Just. Like. Before. Because what else can we do, but that? Just like after the 7/7 bombings on the London Tube network, millions of Londoners the next day, got right back onto the Tube and continued with their London lives.
Gay people must carry on going to Pride marches and festivals. Carry on going to gay bars and night clubs. And, where we feel safe, carry on with our public displays of affection, be they a kiss on the cheek or a hug. Personally I’m not for full on face-sucking in public whether it’s between a man and a woman, two men or two women – get a room please!
Because, like it or dislike it, gay people aren’t going away. GLBTQ people, make up between 5 and 10% of the population depending on which research you believe and how you define GLTBQ. Bottom line, we’re here, we’re queer and we walk amongst you.