The Pulse Nightclub Shooting and the LGBT Community: Staying Safe During Pride Month

This past weekend Orlando became the latest in a list of cities marred by mass shootings and set a grisly new record.  In the end, 50 people were killed and at least another 53 injured.  The city of Orlando has set up a page that lists the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting as their names become available once their family is notified.  It has become the most deadly mass shooting in American modern history.

The scale of the attack is made all the more disturbing by its timing.  LGBT Pride Month is well underway, with several cities having already hosted their parades, festivals and related events.  Still, there are many cities – including my own – which are poised to kick off celebrations this week.

I live in Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a sprawling university city with an active, vocal and growing LGBT community.  The pride celebrations here aren’t limited to the weekend of the parade.  Events have been going on all month and as the parade is slated for this weekend, the number of events and visitors coming for the parade and festival are growing by the day.  In the wake of the Orlando shooting and a number of LGBT related crimes in the city, there have already been announcements about increased security surrounding the events slated to kick off on Friday and last through the weekend.

Even with enhanced security being implemented in cities hosting pride events this month, the LGBT community must take extra steps to ensure our own safety.  While it’s impossible to avoid every potential problem, there are things we can all do to be safe during Pride.

Safety in Numbers – When walking around, bar hopping or taking in the sights of a new city, travel with friends.  It doesn’t have to be a huge group, but joining up with a friend or two will give you added security.

Charge Your Phone – There’s nothing worse than truly needing to make a call only to find out you’ve no battery left because you were swiping around on Tinder before heading out.  When you’re in your hotel room getting ready or waiting on your friends to decide on which shirt to wear, plug that phone in while you swipe.  Worried you won’t have access to an outlet in the hotel room?  Invest in a portable phone charger.  There are models going for around $10 and it gives you the security of being able to top up your phone anytime.

Buy Your Own – That stranger who offers you a drink might be absolutely lovely … or they might be drugging you.  Stick to drinks you buy yourself during Pride.  If someone offers you a drink, let them pick up the check but make sure the glass remains in your hand.

Stash the Cash – Keep your wallet, cash, keys and phone away from pickpockets.  Back pockets and backpacks are easy pickins for pickpockets, so get creative.  Stash your valuables in your bra, your binder, your codpiece or your retro fanny pack.  Just keep it safe.

Know Where to Go – If you’re traveling to a new city for Pride, take some time to research LGBT friendly hotels, businesses and services before you go.  Check out local LGBT organizations online or ask friends who live in the area.  Knowing which hotels, bars and clubs cater to the LGBT community will help you navigate the city safely.

Know How You’re Getting There – Major cities hosting LGBT Pride parades usually bump up their public transportation schedules to meet the demand.  Research options for buses and trains but have plenty of backup choices ready to go.  Limited car rental services, bike rentals, private and professional taxis will all be in high demand during Pride, so have the local contact details and directions for each of them in your phone and ready to go.

Look Out for Each Other – It can be easy to get swept up in your own experience during Pride.  But it’s important to look out for each other at the same time.  Whether it’s getting security involved in a situation at a bar or talking someone through a late night existential crisis, Pride is about coming together and supporting each other just as much as it’s about celebrating LGBT culture and history.  If you need help or know someone else who does, get in touch with national organizations like the GLBT National Hotline, Trans Lifeline or the Trevor Project.

Several witnesses from inside Pulse nightclub have remarked on how strange it was to hear people’s phones going off as they lay dead.  Dozens of ringtones overlapping, each one a family member or friend trying to reach someone they loved and cared about.  Each one telling themselves the phone was ringing so long because the person on the other end couldn’t hear it, they were helping others, it was on silent … any reason other than the one it really was.

As a community that’s been marginalized, vilified and targeted by national organizations, political parties and zealots, the LGBT community is no stranger to violence.  That’s why it’s important for people to be safe, vigilant and proactive when it comes to their safety and the safety of those around them.  Some people claim taking extra precautions or modifying your behavior is seen as ‘letting terrorists win’ as it shows their actions affect us.  But the truth is that these actions only show our strength.

Being safe isn’t a sign of defeat or even a concession to those who seek to terrorize us.  It’s a clear message, one that is heard in our voices as we fill the streets, one that is seen as we walk with assurance.  It’s an unmistakable proclamation of the army standing at the line in the sand – we’re not leaving, we’re not scared and what they hoped would drive us back into the closets one by one will only drive us into the streets en masse.