On September 11th 2001, I remember distinctly what I was doing when I found out that a plane had flown through one of the World Trade Center Towers. My boyfriend Matt and I were awakened in our apartment in West Hollywood by a distraught call from his best friend Susan who lived in a high-rise not far from the towers in New York City. Susan frantically told Matt to turn on the news and within minutes, the second plane had flown into the second tower. While Susan and her boyfriend Patrick watched and photographed the attacks as they played out live, Matt and I stood by and watched the televised live broadcast on CNN. Hours passed as more breaking news unspooled of the attack on the Pentagon and the fourth plane that was taken down in Pennsylvania. I remember feeling disbelief, fear, anger, and sadness. I feel confident to say that most people who were cognitive at that time remember where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with on 9/11/2001.
On the morning of 6/12/2016, I woke up alone reminiscing about my DJ set that I had played the day before at LA Gay Pride. My laptop hadn’t synced up properly with the DJ equipment that was provided for me and I basically had to rig up the system to work. Although my set was compromised by the malfunction, nobody seemed to notice my “broken set.” “Oh well, next year will be better,” I thought to myself.
I could hear the rumbling of LA Pride through the window in my bedroom and it motivated me to get up and get ready for the parade. I have lived in the same apartment where I share an alley with Santa Monica Boulevard for twenty years and a rush of adrenaline hits me when I hear the familiar laughter, floats, cheers, and helicopters associated with the annual LA LGBT Pride Parade. The sound of pride triggers a learned instinct, similar to the Pavlovian dog theory, that guides me to put together a comfortable outfit for the day that incorporates a rainbow flag or something representative of the love for our LGBT community.
I love Gay Pride celebrations. Always have, always will. Like most cultures, the LGBT community is broken down by subcultures. The obvious differences within the group allow us to mock ourselves and poke fun at each other. Some of the more apparent differences are; Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Trans-Genders. Then we are broken down even deeper as ethnic groups, twinks, bears (and other animals associated with looks and roles in the community), butches, fems, drag queens, drag kings, straight-acting, daddies, sons, activists, circuit boys, sobers, religious affiliates, singers, dancers, athletes, leather, and kink. At times, our subcultures separate us. The Rainbow Flag represents a community of people united together. I like to refer to us as the Rainbow people. A rainbow is literally defined as a bow or arc of prismatic colors. This year, I attached a rainbow flag handkerchief to my backpack as a miniature cape.
My tradition was interrupted this year when I participated in my morning ritual of checking my phone for messages and Facebook notifications. My news feed was filled with bits and pieces of a story about a bar where a gunman shot and killed around fifty people and injured another fifty. My roommate was in the living room and I asked him if he had heard about the tragedy. Both of us had been out late celebrating pride the night before and were blind to what had happened while we were out having a good time.
At first, we both felt a jolt of shock, sadness, and disbelief. Really… who wants to entertain the possibility or reality of this sort of tragedy? I read a few articles online and had CNN Breaking News coverage streaming in the background on my living room television. I was shocked again when I heard that it was a terrorist attack.
Another story surfaced as we stared uncomfortably at the live coverage. In Santa Monica, a tip was reported to local authorities by a resident describing a suspicious man hanging out in his car. Police arrived and searched his vehicle and found a massive amount of ammunition and chemicals that were described as a recipe for making bombs. When asked by cops what he was planning on doing with the explosives, he indicated that he was heading to LA Pride.
The Orlando story was inching its way closer to my personal space as the details unfolded. It was a dance-club in Orlando. Though I had never been to a dance club in Orlando, I have been to dance clubs in most cities that I had visited. And having been a club DJ for about two decades, I have certainly spent a good portion of my life in these venues. This can’t be real. How? Who? Why? No, I didn’t ask myself these questions… I wasn’t ready.
Then I came across another article that offered the detail that completely detached me from my emotions. The dance club was a bar called “Pulse” that catered to the LGBTQ Community. That did it. I couldn’t read or hear any more.
Many people outside of the gay community don’t realize the symbolic nature what it means when Gay people say “We’re going out to the Club.” The Club represents much more than a place to go drink and get laid. To me, The Club represents a “space” where I danced with another man for the first time. In fact, I came to realize that it was okay to be gay at The Club by speaking with others about sexual orientation and what it is like to be different. I had my first gay kiss at a night club, met the man that I had sex with for the first time, and met my first boyfriend (not the same guy). The Club is where I heard music that lifted me to a spiritual high that I never felt when I attended my synagogue. It was a place to congregate, be myself to the best of my ability, flirt with other men like straight kids have the privilege to do with each other in grade school, sing the lyrics to the songs we know all the words to, and dance. When I came out of the closet, I loved to get on the dance floor, feel the music, and let it speak through me with my homemade dance moves. I could easily feel like I was on ecstasy (even when I wasn’t). It was my safety zone, place of worship, community, fellowship, party, and dating life rolled up into one. I loved the feeling of inclusivity I found at a gay dance club so much that I trained myself to DJ so I could share the feeling with others.
Therefore, the attack at “Pulse” in Orlando struck a deep chord within me and it horrifies me to think of the beautiful souls that were taken.
It was time to walk down the street and join in the parade. The parade was bittersweet. As I walked down Santa Monica Boulevard, my heart was warmed as I passed by the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gays) float, local bar floats, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center float led by 7 individuals carrying large posters of the letters O R L A N D O. At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t the only one attending pride with the victims of the Florida shootings in my heart. It set my mind at ease to keep walking rather than retreating back home to watch more unfolding breaking news. The news was unfolding live at LA Pride where many, like myself, were trying to grasp the mind-baffling attack on our brothers and sisters.
I continued to walk down the strip feeling slightly euphoric as I exchanged hugs with friends that I have met over the years, witnessed gatherings of prideful celebrations in loft balconies, and listened to the thumping music and celebratory cheers from the patios of supporting local businesses. As I neared the entrance to the Festival, I passed by a more personal landmark… the crosswalk between Revolver Bar and Flaming Saddles at Larrabee Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
At this crosswalk, about fifteen years ago, my boyfriend Matt & I were attacked – gay-bashed. A gold-colored van came to a quick stop to us as we were crossing the street. Matt responded with an arm gesture implying “Don’t you see the crosswalk?”. One of the four guys spat out, “What are you looking at, faggot?” Within a minute, three of the guys managed to get out of the vehicle, attack us with fists and a beer bottle over my head, then drove off. My first instinct was to blame Matt for acknowledging the strangers’ dangerous driving with his arm gesture. It was hard for me to see at that time that we were the victims of a hate-crime who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ironically, the West Hollywood Sheriff Department was located across the street from this intersection, and I chose to walk across to the station and report the incident. Matt was barely out of the closet at the time and he insisted that we just go home. But I was adamant that we make the report so the city would be aware of these dangerous men who were likely going to attack again.
I uncomfortably entered the building with a false sense of confidence with a beer-bottle-induced bump on my head and approached the deputies at the reception desk. I explained what had happened and asked how to file a report. Being a victim who was still in shock from a bashing that had occurred within the hour, it was difficult for me to articulate what had just happened. All I had was my story, a boyfriend that reluctantly shared his story, a few digits of the California license plate of the gold van, and a basic description of the assailants. The Sheriff seemed more concerned about filing the paperwork when he asked us, “Are you sure you would like to file a report”? We didn’t have the full license plate and names of our attackers, and it seemed as if he was ready to call this a cold case. Reluctantly, the deputies obliged and filed away the report.
Although Matt and I quickly recovered physically from the attack, I have relived the attack numerous times over the years when I have crossed this street or when I hear of another attack on our community. Reflecting on my personal incident fifteen years ago and feeling the sadness of the Orlando attack highlighted the relevance and my purpose for celebrating Gay Pride each year.
As I entered the gates of Pride, I felt safe and at home. I was surrounded by people who wore rainbows and gleamed of a communal high… a similar feeling to how I described The Club. Strangers were family and nothing more needed to be spoken other than “Happy Pride”. The response, “Thank you, Happy Pride”. The 2016 LA Pride Music Festival was a conglomeration of entertainment stages, food vendors, retail vendors, Non-Profit Organization booths related to the LGBT Community, and recreational areas. A large portion of those who attend the parade (400,000) also enter the festival.
At LA Pride on 06/12/2016, there was dancing, singing, warm embraces, and a common feeling of heartfelt prayers for our Orlando family, and for all of those who were affected by the incident.
A couple weeks have passed since the Orlando tragedy and I continue to feel mixed emotions. I am grateful to have been able to witness the outpouring of support from so many different people, organizations, and countries around the globe. It saddens and angers me to see the pop-up groups that continue to demonstrate hate towards the LGBT Community. It frustrates me that I am still a moving target that needs to constantly be on-alert because of my sexual orientation.
Every One of the forty-nine lives lost in Orlando has a story. At first, I was in denial. But now, I feel the need to observe each individual face. The closer I look, the faces become people I know. My heart sadly and reluctantly insists that I have crossed paths with each of them at The Club.