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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
David Goldman Jennifer, right, and Mary Ware light candles during a vigil downtown for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Gay clubs are a sanctuary when being LGBT could get you killed

Conor Behan DJs at gay club The George, and says that it’s important we recognise the Orlando attack was an attack on the LGBT community.

FOR THE LAST six years I’ve earned a good chunk of my living being a DJ, and in recent years mainly in LGBT venues.

I’m one of the main DJs at The George in Dublin, a bar that has been open for over 30 years and has the name recognition that comes with being one of the few full-time venues to cater to LGBT people in Ireland.

Around 10am on Sunday morning I was dragging myself out of bed after the previous night’s DJ gig to get ready for a radio show when I saw some of the first reports about the attack on Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub.

A shooting is a grim tragedy in any circumstance but I knew immediately what the words “gay club” and shooting meant together. Reading the initial report left me shaken and upset and made me feel an immense sense of sadness for those involved.

“Being LGBT can get you killed”

22/05/15 Pictured is the freshly painted gay bar T Leah Farrell / Photocall Ireland The George pub Leah Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Just hours before the shooting, I had been in my usual Saturday workplace, the kind of thriving and bustling gay club just like the one in Orlando that had been attacked.

When I noted that outlets seemed to be skimming over the fact that it was a gay venue, I tweeted as such and was told I was a “drama queen” for daring to suggest this had an impact on LGBT people specifically.

Working in a place like The George, I get to see those embracing the sheer joy of getting to be yourself in a world where being an openly LGBT person and merely existing can put you in line for violence, abuse, harassment or even be killed.

Sometimes it can feel the whole world is against an LGBT person and in many ways nightclubs and bars offer some kind of solace. They also let LGBT people flourish. From the birth of disco to the emergence of house music to how drag queens impact on mainstream pop culture, LGBT nightlife shows how solidarity, freedom and the different ways people can live should be cherished.

I don’t take lightly the privilege I have that a huge part of my job is to make people happy, play fun music and be around people having a good time.

Of course, because of their reputation as a safe haven gay bars have frequently been targeted, during incidents such as the nail bomb planted by a Neo-Nazi at London’s the Admiral Duncan in 1999 or the arson incident at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973.

Copeland Videograb PA Archive / Press Association Images CCTV footage released by the Metropolitan police showing the scene after the explosion in the Admiral Duncan in London's Soho area. PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“You can condemn terrorism and LGBT oppression”

As details about Orlando shooter Omar Mateen emerged, certain corners of the press and even political figures like Donald Trump began claiming his background as a Muslim was the obvious reason for his actions.

That homophobia itself should even be a reason or explicit enough to be considered a motive was lost on many.

This divide-and-conquer mentality happens almost immediately. LGBT people trying to express their grief and their concerns are told to tone it down or be “respectful” while the kind of conservative politicians that will back legislation discriminating against LGBT people are sending their “thoughts and prayers”.

In their calls to ask you to think of everyone and see the bigger picture, people want to remove every sense of nuance from the conversation.

It’s possible to condemn an act of terrorism, the madness around US gun laws, the loss of life and think of the specific experiences LGBT people have around oppression. In fact, it’s important to do all those things.

To dismiss the significance of this shooting taking place in a club for LGBT people is to miss a huge part of both the story itself and how this community is treated worldwide.

It ignores how many of us finally begin to feel a sense of home when we find new groups of friends, partners, and new ways to express ourselves through nightlife.

It ignores the very real lives of the people affected by what happened at Pulse Orlando on a night it was having a night celebrating Orlando’s Latin community in the month of Gay Pride, with trans women of colour on the bill as headline entertainers.

“LGBT people did not get anywhere by accepting a status quo”

13/06/2016. Irish LGBT communities, join us in a r A rainbow vigil held in Dublin last night in solidarity with those killed in Orlando.

Much attention has been placed on Guardian writer Owen Jones this week for walking off during a live discussion about the attack on Sky News, with his growing frustration about how the specifics of this story are being dismissed something all too familiar to many LGBT people.

It’s a reality familiar to any of us who sat through the debates about marriage equality in Ireland last year and watched voices from the no side calmly outline what homophobia was and wasn’t and what you could and couldn’t say about LGBT people.

The overall effect was numbing after a point, numbing us to accept a status quo, a status quo that would rather you weren’t “too gay” or “visibly trans” or that if you’re not white, able-bodied, cis-gender or even conventionally attractive that you should ever accept your voice to matter in relation to LGBT narratives.

Even as America basks in the ‘Love Wins’ victory of granting US LGBT people full marriage rights last year, the backlash has been kicking in. Trans people’s lives have been used as pawns to further conservative agendas.

The anti-trans bathroom bill in North Carolina that caused outcry earlier this year and Houston overturning HERO, a law created to prevent LGBT discrimination in 2015, are merely two of the kind of hate-driven laws that play on homophobia and transphobia.

At one point this year there were 17 different US states with proposed plans to deny transgender people the right to use their bathroom best suited to their gender identity.

Homophobia, transphobia and any kind of thinly-veiled disgust at LGBT people is not something that exists in some kind of bubble and when policies likes this are implanted we can’t act surprised that anti-LGBT sentiment can be expressed in a manner as violent as in Orlando.

LGBT people did not get anywhere by accepting a status quo. While we rally together and try and move ourselves past an attack that wounds and kills others just like us in our community, we will not let our voices be shot down by those who would rather pretend oppression doesn’t exist than listen to people talk about their experiences of it.

Conor Behan is a DJ, radio presenter and writer based in Dublin.

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