US LGBT community devastated after gunman kills 50

13 June 2016

The gay, lesbian and transgender community has seen left devastated by Sunday's massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which has stirred communal fears and swiftly prompted tighter security at gay pride events.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub, which left at least 50 people dead and was the deadliest US mass shooting to date, occurred amid numerous events nationwide celebrating LGBT Pride Month.

The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, told his father he was disturbed by seeing two men kissing in Miami.

In several other cities hosting events on Sunday - including block parties in Boston and a festival in Washington - authorities beefed up police presence.

This ''is a tragic illustration of the legitimate safety fears that those in our LGBT community live with every day'', said Mike Rawlings, mayor of Dallas, where extra police were assigned to a neighbourhood that is a hub of the local gay community.

In a separate incident on Sunday, a heavily armed man was arrested in Southern California even as Mateen's attack was ongoing, telling police he was on his way to attack a gay pride parade. Twenty-year-old James Wesley, of Indiana, had assault rifles, ammunition and chemicals that could be used to make an explosive, according to police, who said there was no evidence of a connection to the Orlando massacre.

Before Sunday, the most prominent incidents of violence against gays claimed one life at a time. The highest profile of these included the murder of Harvey Milk, a pioneering gay politician in San Francisco in 1978, and the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming at the hands of two men who beat him into a coma while he was tied to a fence. A federal hate crimes law bears Shepard's name.

Investigators were still trying to determine Mateen's motives. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call before the shooting, according to according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation who was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

But LGBT activists had no doubt that their community was the intended target.

''Our practices and institutions may change in light of this tragedy - LGBT gathering places may have more security now,'' said Rev Alisan Rowland, pastor of the LGBT-welcoming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. ''But we will never, ever go away. We will never be cowed.''

Rachel B Tiven, CEO of the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said the continued vilification of LGBT people by their detractors, and the continued resistance to expansion of their civil rights, was ''an invitation to violence.''

''When people are targeted by others who are scared of difference, they're not safe when they go dancing, they're not safe when they go out to pray,'' she said. ''If we live in culture where fear of difference is encouraged, that can, in the hands of crazy people, have dreadful consequences.''

There have been a few previous attacks on gay nightclubs, but only one that caused a significant number of deaths. A fire set by an arsonist killed 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973; the arsonist was never caught.

On 31 December 2013, about 750 people were celebrating New Year's Eve at Neighbours, a popular gay nightclub in Seattle, when Musab Masmari poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured, and Masmari was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.

Robert Matencio, who works as a host at Neighbours, said the club responded to the arson attack by adding extra security guards during large special events, and training employees in crowd control.

Sunday's attack struck a place that has long been thought of as a safe haven for the community - the gay nightclub.

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