For many in the LGBT community, gay bars and clubs are safe harbors—spaces where they can take refuge from those who reject their identities, and be understood as who they truly are, surrounded by people who support them.
So when Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the setting threw the tragedy into even sharper relief.
The experience of gay bars as targets is echoed in Iowa, where Blazing Saddle is the longest running gay bar. Last year, its owners received a threatening note with a substance the note claimed was anthrax. It turned out to be talcum powder, but attacks on the bar haven’t stopped. Yesterday, a man threw rocks through its front window.
Blazing Saddle’s owner, Bob Eickleberry, says his bar is a home for the LBGT community in Des Moines, and the attack hasn't changed that.
“My community considers my bar its living room, anything they need to know, anything they want to say can be said or done there. They’ve always felt safe.”
That defiant spirit is echoed by Jewell Amos, chair of Iowa City Pride. She says she didn’t consider cancelling the event for one minute.
“That’s because I have an attitude. I’m like, ‘Oh hell no. They’re not stopping me from living my life; they’re not going to get me down.’ I have to be out there even more this year to show my strength and to show my lack of fear.”
Brian Bruening is a restaurateur in Elkader, IA. He wrote an editorial for the Des Moines Register detailing the intersection of homophobia and Islamophobia.
“It’s not like this violence against the LGBT community is unheard of. And the fact that it’s through the perspective of an Islamic fighter or a member of ISIS— I understand that it’s important to deal with that, but it doesn’t negate the fact that it was targeted against this specific community.”
Bruening says this just reminds him of how common violence against LGBT people is, and how far civil rights for LGBT in the U.S. have to go.
“It just brought into clear perspective to me how fragile the gains that the gay community has made in this country really are. Gay people are still a target.”
But while hate was the impetus behind the attack, and his letter of response, it isn’t the end of the story. His husband, Frederique Boudouani, says if there’s one bright spot to be gained from the attack, it’s the love and support that has followed in its wake.
“People went out of their way to show their support, we had flowers sent out. I could not tell you the amount of text and email I receive. I tried to count how many people brought it up to me and I couldn't do it. It was just overwhelming."
In this River to River program, host Ben Kieffer also talks with Bob Vander Plaats, CEO and President of The Family Leader, about whether he would ever endorse Trump and Blake Daly, organizer of Two Rivers Fest, about a new bluegrass folk festival.