(WORT)–Early Sunday morning at around 2 a.m., a gunman entered an iconic LGBT club in Orlando, Florida during a “Latin night” and opened fire on patrons with an automatic weapon. After a three-hour standoff, police entered the club and killed the shooter. The death toll stands at 49, with dozens more injured.
Even here in Madison, the tragic hate crime hits close to home for many LGBT people, underscoring the vulnerability many experience in their day-to-day lives.
For Dave Eick, owner of Five Nightclub in South Madison, this weekend’s mass shooting brought back traumatic memories from an incident in 2012.
“We were taking trash out at like 10 pm, it was a very busy night. And we saw cars on Fish Hatchery stopping, and there was a gentleman waving a gun in the air,” Eick says.
“Basically what happened was, the Fitchburg Police were chasing him, and he ended up getting to our front door. People in the front were already screaming and running out.”
The man, an 18-year-old African American from Platteville who was under the influence of drugs, was shot himself by police and later sentenced to 8 years in prison for attempted armed robbery.
Although Eick later learned the teenager had been using a BB gun, he says the vulnerability many felt then was no less real.
“I’m sure that was just a miniscule amount of the fear those people felt, because you just have no idea what’s happening. Everything happens so quick.”
Corey Gresen, owner of Plan B nightclub on Williamson Street, says he’ll be meeting with staff to review “hard action plans” in case of emergencies.
“It’s a good thing to mourn and be compassionate moving forward, but also be pragmatic and make sure systems and security are up to par for situations like this,” Gresen says. “We have a wave wand that we use. Maybe we’ll start to use it more now.”
But Eick says he doesn’t think any degree of heightened security will solve the problem.
“Look at Orlando, the guard at the door was armed,” Eick says. “If somebody’s going to get in with a gun, they’re going to get in with a gun.”
As details continue to emerge about the identity of the victims and shooter, some community organizers say it is important to remember that people of color within the LGBT community are particularly at risk of violence, not only in the form of hate crimes but also state sanctioned violence.
Z Haukeness is a racial justice organizer who works with a wide range of grassroots organizations in Madison.
“All queer and trans people are at risk for this type of violence, but keeping in mind that this disproportionately affects black and brown people. A lot of Latinx people and black people were killed in this shooting and they face this kind of violence more on a daily basis than I do,” Z says.
Adopting heightened security measures will only put these communities at greater risk, Z says, and gun control needs to be more of a priority.
“People shouldn’t be able to be walking around with military-grade guns, and also we shouldn’t have a police force that’s armed the same way,” Z says.
But changing the national conversation around gun control seems like an uphill battle to many.
In the short-term, many LGBT community members and allies are simply looking for opportunities to come together and heal.
On Sunday night, Five Nightclub held a short vigil before their weekly drag show to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting.
“A gay bar is a gathering place, where people can be themselves, where they can hold hands, where they can kiss, and for just one moment let their guard down,” Eick says. “And we wanted to give them that opportunity, to come in here and even just spend a little time together.”
A vigil and rally to honor the Orlando victims was also scheduled for 7pm Monday at the State Capitol.