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Orlando Shooting: The Latest Attack Against The LGBTQ Community

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now let's go to another thought. The massacre at an Orlando gay club is being talked about by politicians as an act of terrorism. But Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern views it through a different lens. He sees the attack as the latest chapter in a long history of violence against gay clubs and bars, the most famous being a 1973 arson attack at a New Orleans club called the UpStairs Lounge. Thirty-two people died in that fire. The attack was largely ignored.

MARK JOSEPH STERN: And the tragedy was really compounded by the fact that this went largely unnoticed and uncommented upon aside from jokes that were made at the time by talk radio hosts about all of the fruits in the bar. And, in fact, the case today remains unsolved. In the intervening years, we've seen more attacks. We saw an attack in an Atlanta lesbian club in 1997. Three years later, there was an attack on Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke. And more recently, in 2013, there was another attempted arson attack on a gay bar in Seattle.

And so you see this pattern. And it's always the same thing. One homophobic actor who has an extreme distaste for gay people and homosexuality decides to take out this rage by harming gay people in the place where they usually feel safest.

MONTAGNE: Pulse itself, the bar in Orlando, has been described as a center for the gay community there. It seems to hark back to an earlier day, a day when there weren't a lot of other places people could go. What else are you hearing about Pulse?

STERN: Well, you know, I grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., which is fairly close to Orlando. And a lot of my friends with whom I grew up now live in Orlando. And I reached out to a lot of them after I heard the horrible news to make sure they were safe. And luckily, they were all safe physically. But they were traumatized because they felt, as you just described, that Pulse was a community center for them. One of my good friends lived on the same block. He went to Pulse all the time. This was where he celebrated his birthdays, where he celebrated his major life events.

And I think you see this, especially in the South, especially in cities like Orlando, where, you know, it may be a liberal bastion, but it's in a very conservative region. Central Florida is still fairly conservative and not necessarily as accepting of homosexuality as other places. And so people congregate because they feel safe. And they feel like this is where we go to be among ourselves. Like you said, it was so much more than a bar.

MONTAGNE: And in 2016, many people would think gay people, people in the LGBT community, would feel reasonably safe. What about you? Would you ever expect to be attacked?

STERN: I think, you know, sadly, I will definitely be nervous the next time I walk into a gay bar. I will be seeing images of what occurred at Pulse in my head. But I will have to put them out of my mind because I think it would be cowardly and disappointing for me to stop going to these places just because I'm now more aware than ever of the risk that they might present.

MONTAGNE: Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for the online magazine Slate. His most recent article is "The Long, Tragic History Of Violence At LGBTQ Bars And Clubs In America." Thank you for joining us.

STERN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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