Utah’s LGBTQ community reacts to Orlando massacre

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The nation and Utahns, especially those in the LGBTQ community, are filled with sadness following the worst mass murder in US history and the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.  Here in Utah many within the LGBTQ community are feeling uneasy about the shootings in Orlando.

“It’s tragic, it doesn’t mater that it’s just a gay club where it was at, it’s people.  These are people’s lives,” says Jay Farga.

As sadness settles in, many are still trying to come to terms with the tragedy that took place in the early hours Sunday morning.  Shots rang out as last call approached at Pulse Nightclub, described on their Facebook page as Orlando’s premiere gay nightclub.

“These people were targeted not because of anything that they had done, they were targeted simply because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender,” said Troy Williams, Executive Director of Equality Utah.

Many of Utah’s gay bars are feeling uneasy tonight.

“It brings an alert, we need to be careful,” says Gene Gieber owner of Club Try-Angles.

Fear now rains over places once considered sanctuaries for many LGBTQ individuals.

“Gay bars have historically been a safe place for the LGBT community to come and feel welcome and be out and be proud of who they are,” says Megan Risbon a manager at Club JAM.

Both these bars will now be increasing their security measures at their respective locations in the wake of the tragedy.

“People bringing in backpacks, packages, carrying items, we’re gonna ask that we can inspect them before they come into the club.  If they’re not comfortable with that then we wont bring them – allow them in,” says Gieber.

Gieber says Try-Angles has always had a policy about carrying items such as backpacks and purses into the club but had relaxed on enforcement. 

Club JAM is no stranger to hate crimes.  In 2014, two men were attacked across the street from the bar.  The manager of the club says two men from out of town walked into the club, not knowing that it was a gay bar, she says the two left upset.  Outside she says they saw the two men hugging and attacked them.  To this day, the hate crime has yet to be prosecuted.  

The manager at JAM says they have a great security staff and are always looking for ways to improve their security to provide their club-goers with a safe place to enjoy themselves.

“We’re gonna re-evaluate our security measures and make sure first of all that we have enough security on busy nights, making sure that nothing like this could happen,” says Risbon.

Another thing Club JAM will be doing is reaching out to Salt Lake City police for advice and tips on how to improve their security and look out for warning signs.

Patrons at Try-Angles today say the thought of knowing it could happen anywhere is what makes them afraid but they say it wont keep them from being who they are.

“It is a scary process but we can’t walk around being in fear of everything,” says Fraga.

As an openly gay woman, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is feeling grief for all the victims and their families saying, ” I can’t help but view this tragedy as an attack on all people who identify as LGBTQ — a hate crime perpetrated to silence our community during the month of Pride, a time when we openly celebrate who we are and the joy of our self acceptance.” 

Tonight, LGBTQ groups and individuals, allies and friends, are standing in solidarity.  This tragedy they say, should unite us all.

“We as Americans should have no tolerance for this level of senseless hate and violence.  We have to stand united as an American people,” says Williams.  

As flags fly at half-staff tonight, Governor Herbert has called the tragedy a despicable and cowardly attack saying.  “As Utahns, we must unite together with those from around the world in love and prayer for our brothers and sisters who are the victims of this terrible tragedy.”

Senator Orrin Hatch also expressing his sympathies saying via Twitter, “Our thoughts and heartfelt prayers go out to the victims of this horrific tragedy in Orlando and to their friends and families.”

House Democratic Leader Brian King, also offering his prayers but going a step further, calling for action to be taken on gun violence. “…Let’s make the decision, as a state and nation to get accurate and unbiased information and then provide the necessary resources, to decrease the number of mass killings we are experiencing…” 

As the fear of copycat attacks looms the Utah Department of Public Safety says they are more than prepared to handle this type of situation.

“Utah law enforcement has an excellent track record in dealing with these active shooters, both Trolley Square and Library Square shooters, we do very well in Utah,” says Sgt. Wyatt Weber with the Utah Department of Public Safety Training Division.  “And we’re constantly improving on getting better,” he says.

Their training shows their dedication to save lives.  Sgt. Weber’s unit trains in some capacity on these situations every week.  Agencies going through active shooter scenarios in multiple scenes at least once a year.  The department has also begun providing training and education on active shooter scenarios to civilians.

“During the training we give them examples, show them props, things like that and after that is over we talk about after an incident, some medical treatment to save their lives or somebody else’s,” says Sgt. Weber.

DPS trains in all types of venues for situations like these but, also rely on the vigilance of the public.  They ask the public to keep a watchful eye and learn the signs of terrorism which can be found on their webpage.  Once on their page search “8 signs of terrorism,” in the search bar..  

The Utah Pride Center is also reaching out to anyone who has been affected by this tragedy.  They have therapists on hand to help anyone dealing with grief.  You can reach them by calling 801-573-6323 or through email at  therapy@utahpridecenter.org

Monday night a coalition of LGBTQ groups will be gathering at 7pm at the Salt Lake City and County building to remember the victims of the Orlando massacre.  Their goal is to show the world that love conquers all.

Many in the LGBTQ community in Salt Lake City say the tragedy in Orlando only highlights the importance for equal protection for all and the need for functional hate crimes laws, especially here in Utah.  

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