"He hated gays". That is what Omar Mateen's former wife said of her abusive husband.
Omar Mateen, the murderer of forty-nine innocent men and women at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was filled with hate of the love gay people show for each other.
His father said that two months ago his son saw two men kissing one another in Miami and became very angry because he was with his three-year old son.
Omar Mateen was only one of all too many people in this country who continue to have a simmering hatred of gays.
For those of you reading this blog who are not gay, it is probably difficult for you to understand what it's like to be gay and to live your life knowing that there are people out there who wish you dead just because you're gay.
A few years ago, Bill and I were visiting the mountains of western North Carolina where my father was born. "Hillbilly" country. We had visited that area several times before. This time I was with my straight cousin and his wife to introduce them to our distant cousin. The night before we were to visit, I called just to confirm our visit. I was asked by the son "Ron, I have a question to ask you." I said "What is that?" My second cousin one removed said "There is a rumor that you practice the gay lifestyle. Is that true?" I paused and then said "If you're asking me if I'm gay, I am." He then said "Now get this bud, if you come anywhere near my parent's place you're going to have me to deal with! You got that?"
|Me in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina three years ago before I was threatened when it became public knowledge I was gay - I will probably never return|
|Me in the home of my cousin. Her husband is talking to me. This was before he knew I was gay. He did make a comment about President Obama and "quares".|
Many times in my life I have faced this hatred. Many times in my life I have encountered the danger. Even once I was physically attacked at a political town hall by a member of the audience just because I stood up and identified myself as a gay man.
In my younger years I often frequented gay bars and clubs. I felt safe there. Those places was where I felt safe. Where I felt empowered. Where I didn't feel "less than."
|Me on the dance floor at a Philadelphia gay club, Halloween 1980|
I just cannot imagine how those young men and women who were at The Pulse nightclub felt when they realized a hate filled mad man was there in their safe place sole with the intent to kill them.
Sunday's attack was a terrorist attack but it was much more. It was an open attack on the gay community. No longer can a young gay man or woman feel safe at their preferred place of gathering with friends.
|The Double L Bar in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware - a place where I used to visit with friends and feel safe|
I don't go out to bars on a regular basis anymore. I'm too old and just can't stay up that late. However, I do like the music and when I'm on vacation in Los Angeles, I go to Oil Can Harry's that has a special disco night. Next year I'll go there again.
|Oil Can Harry's, Los Angeles, California|
Not to make this about me but I am having an unusual reaction to this tragedy. Of course I've always known the hatred and the fact that living openly as a gay man was dangerous for me. That my life was at risk. Like the time I was almost hit by a car of drunk teenagers from Boston who were intent on gay bashing after a night of drinking. I was walking a lonely road back to my motel room from the center of Provincetown, Massachusetts. As I heard then yelling "Hey, hit the fag!" and swerved their car towards me, I jumped off the side of the road into the bushes, narrowly missing death. That was just once instance of me avoiding a gay bashing. I can recount at least a half a dozen more. But I am not alone in these experiences. But one place I always felt safe was when I was in the bar or the club. No more.
This morning I was reading the identities of twenty of the victims. All were young and of Hispanic heritage. I have nothing in common with them except that I am gay as they were gay.
They were on the threshold of their lives. Out for a good time with friends at a safe place. Then Hell descends on them. Tears welled up in my eyes.
As I write this blog, I choke up. A great sadness overcomes me as I think of their families that will no longer have their loved ones in their lives.
So, so sad.
When I was their age, my worry was the police and gay bashers. My fear was physical safety and surviving in an economy which did not favor a openly gay man. Never once did I have to fear that someone would enter the one place where I felt safe, a gay bar or club and kill me.
The past few years I thought perhaps, just maybe, the hatred of gays had lessened. Maybe not folks, maybe not.