Tuscaloosa reflects on Orlando massacre
By: Erin Stender
Love is our common bond as human beings and no matter what they do, they can never stop us because love will always win in the end.
Andy Bearden, local Tuscaloosa resident.
They stood in the heat, in the wringing humidity — candles lit in remembrance, in mourning. And then the rainbow came.
Tuscaloosa citizens and University of Alabama students gathered June 3 in two separate vigils to mourn the murder of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub that catered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patrons. The shooter, Omar Mateen, injured 53 others before being killed by police.
“Obviously, it’s upsetting when 50 people die, but I was at Pride in Birmingham the night before with all my friends,” said UA graduate student Rachel LeComte, who attended the event at Government Plaza. “We were actually joking because there were only three protesters there and we were like, ‘Only three? Homophobia must be over.’ Then we woke up this morning and 50 people like us were dead.”
According to the FBI, single-bias hate crime in 2014 accounted for 1,115 reported incidents related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In response to the Orlando massacre, communities throughout the nation held vigils for those killed.
“I got up and I came downstairs, and my mom was like ‘Did you hear that there was a shooting in a gay bar?’ and I was shocked because all my friends had gone out to a gay bar last night,” LeComte said. “That could have easily been all my friends that someone who hated us decided to go after.”
The Orlando shooting spree targeted not just the LGBT community, but because the club was hosting its ‘Latinx’ night, people of color were also disproportionately targeted.
There are more single-bias hate crimes related to race than those related to sexual orientation and gender identity and, in 2014, accounted for 2,568 reported incidents.
People who said they may have seen a queer-friendly club as a safe space are now left angry, confused and frightened.
“It hits people on that kind of level. Specifically, if you know people who died,” said Jo Mosier, a UA alumnus student who is transgender and Latinx. “It was extra hard on people because it was during pride [week].”
But after Dylann Roof attacked and killed nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina and Mateen’s rampage, it’s a concern for many: Are attacks on minority safe spaces on the rise?
Designed by Erin Stender
“I don’t know if it’s a trend, I hope not,” Mosier said. “There’s this domino effect. There’s been violence on LGBT+ since before the Civil War.”
Tuscaloosa resident Adam Brooks also attended a Birmingham Pride event the night before the massacre.
“I was just in a club the night before, and it was sort of this moment of, ‘That could have been me if it had been here,’” Brooks said. “It hits home, and when you know that it was 50 LGBT folks — LGBT of color — who lost their lives, and that these are communities that are often at the intersections of the most vulnerable margins of society. It feels like we do have to stand out, and we do have to show solidarity with the larger community.”
Brooks stressed the importance of keeping the LGBT community and its ideals alive.
“I’m here to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in a senseless act of hatred and violence,” Brooks said, “and also sort of create a moment of resistance and show that we’re not gonna let hatred drive us back into fear.”
Andy Bearden attended both vigils, and said showing a bond of love and community is important right now.
“I just feel it’s very important in times like these that we show as a community that we’ll never be stopped, no matter what happens, that we love each other,” Bearden said. “Love is our common bond as human beings and no matter what they do, they can never stop us because love will always win in the end.”
UA undergraduate Gevin Brown hopes significant change can come in the wake of the tragedy.
“Hopefully, we can finally get to the point where enough will be enough,” Brown said. “We’re gonna make change for this and make it not about the right have guns but the right to live and right to be free to who you are in any place you wanna be.”
The FBI questioned Mateen on two separate occasions, searching for possible ties to terrorism. That news has spurred some, such as Bearden, to ask questions about guns in the United States.
“We just want common-sense gun reform,” Bearden said. “We want universal background checks. If you're on a terrorist watch list, you shouldn’t be able to get a gun ... I find that just absolutely insane. How many people have to die before we do something about it?”
'Hopefully, we can finally get to a the point where enough will be enough.'
Gevin Brown, UA undergraduate