Over 26 years ago, I went to a gay club for the first time. I had just turned 30, finally coming out as a gay man to my closest friends, my family, and at work. The first few times I went to the gay clubs, I was terrified. Back then, I didn’t drink very much (one beer would make me dizzy), and I was painfully shy.
But there was something about the diversity of faces and bodies, the freedom with which people danced, and the energy of the music, that melted away my self-consciousness… and I soon realized that I just wanted to dance…to literally move my body and physically release all the worrying, all the internal struggle to come out, all my “praying away being gay”…and just dance…
And so the Box and I-Beam, and then Club Townsend, the End Up, 1015 Folsom, 715 Harrison, Club Eight, Ruby Skye and many other spaces became my places of refuge, places of creating community, places of liberation. In that journey, I was supported by my now-husband John, and then by dozens and dozens of friends (many who might be reading this).
Many other gay clubs around the U.S. (Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Miami) and, luckily for me, around the world (Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Singapore, Australia), now are vital parts of my stories of my life as a gay man. Many of these clubs have long been gone, now condominiums and office buildings and retail stores; but others continue to welcome and host thousands of gay men on their dance floors. Those gay clubs continue to be the spaces that hold those stories, those coming out experiences, those vital moments in the lives of so many gay men like me.
So when the news of the mass killings at the Pulse gay club in Orlando finally began to sink in for me, I was flooded with my own memories of so many hours on the dance floors of so many gay clubs.
Almost every gay man will have his own stories about the gay clubs he has been to: the friends, lovers, boyfriends, and husbands met, the DJs who spun magical mixes, the songs that made us jump high in the air and get down low, the laser lights that flashed across the dancing bodies, the go-go dancers we admired, the live performances we cheered and sang along to, the flaggers who brought the colors of the rainbow onto the dance floor, the glow sticks that lit up our faces, the icy popsicles in the middle of morning, the sunrises we greeted when we finally left the club, and so much more…
And that is why it is so horrifying and so personal to learn that a killer invaded one of our sacred spaces, and ended the lives of so many. So many who could have been my friends. So many who could have been me.
That is why this mass killing hurts so much, has wounded each of us so deeply…
What gives me some solace and hope in my grief and anger is to read about the lives of the 49 men and women who were killed, to learn how their parents, their families, their friends, their co-workers – everyone in their lives – all testify to the life, the love, the kindness, the humor, the happiness, that each of them brought into the world. It gives me hope that soon, both our families of origin and our families created on the dance floors of gay clubs will just become “our family”.
As a gay man of color, I am especially grateful to learn how so many Latino families accepted and supported their gay sons, their gay brothers. This is a coming out moment for gay Latinos in the U.S.; through this horrific tragedy, we have eroded some of the invisibility of our gay Latino sons, our gay Latino brothers, our gay Latino cousins, our gay Latino friends…
But prayers and vigils and memorials are not enough.
We need to enact comprehensive federal, state, and local legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations (including public bathrooms). We need to stand up to the National Rifle Association and enact common sense legislation prohibiting ownership of assault weapons and high caliber ammunition. And we need to insist on the adoption and continuous accountability for public policies and private business practices that fully recognize and unequivocally support all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – as your family members, neighbors, co-workers, members of your faith communities, in every occupation and profession, elected officials, and community leaders.
And we who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – and our families, friends, and allies – must re-commit ourselves to work harder, to speak out louder, to act up more boldly, to give more, to do everything we can to achieve the full equality and liberation of all the members of our diverse communities.
In the names of those killed in Orlando, we will keep dancing…
For reflections that inspired mine, see:
Daniel Leon-Davis, The site of the Orlando shooting wasn’t just a gay nightclub. It was my safe haven, Fusion,net, June 12, 2016
Justin Torres, In praise of Latin night at the Queer Club, Washington Post, June 13, 2016
Richard Kim, Please Don’t Stop the Music, The Nation, June 12, 2016