Following the nightclub shooting in Orlando early Sunday, Annie Anderson, engagement and inclusion manager for MPR's Public Insight Network, reflects on the significance of gay bars and the role they play as a safe space.
I walked into the Gay 90s nightclub in Minneapolis on my 18th birthday. I wasn't out to anyone at the time, not even myself. But I walked through those doors and it felt like coming home.
There were brown, black and white bodies. There were abled and differently-abled bodies. There were genderqueer bodies. There were femmes and butches and twinks and bears. All of these bodies were vibrant, safe and dancing to "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child.
Gay bars hold an almost mystical place in the LGBTQ psyche. They serve as our sanctuary, our safe space to be our freest, truest selves with nothing but love and acceptance within those walls. They feel like home. For many, they take the place of a home, church or workplace where they've been kicked out.
That's why the Pulse nightclub slayings in Orlando are a virtual massacre on the collective LGBTQ soul.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this could have been me, or every single one of the queer people I know and love. I have danced in so many gay bars all over this country at 2 a.m.
I literally could have been one of these young victims — an excited 22-year-old freshly out of the closet listening to the latest reggaeton, hoping someone would buy me a drink.
These bars are where we gather to support each other in all kinds of ways.
We organized there to stop a Minnesota constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. We raised funds for Mara after her drag queen wig collection was lost in a fire. We hosted parties for Luis' clean bill of health after a cancer scare.
The killing of 49 people in this space is devastating.
The LGBTQ community exists as one community in so many ways, and we hold the same fears going through our days.
I scan the landscape around me every single time before I grab the hand of my partner of 10 years in public. I do a deeper scan before I kiss her — unless we're in a gay bar. There, we're safe from judgment and harassment.
This is why even if we've never been to Pulse, we have all been to Pulse.
Internally, I stutter step when I hear one of my kids yell "Mommy, Mama" when we're in a store or the park or the gas station or a parking lot. I quickly look around to make sure there are no reactions other than surprise and sometimes confusion.
I am aware in most moments of every day exactly where I am and who is around me. And I live in Minneapolis, which is a pretty great place to live as a lesbian.
But as everyone now understands, and something the LGBTQ community has always known, it only takes one hate-filled person to wipe you out.
This community, my queer community, has overcome more and will continue to fiercely protect one another as best we can.
And my awareness doesn't hold me back and can't keep my family and me from living and loving.
When I tucked my kids into bed last night, I hoped for them that the next decade, or even the next week, would have less hate, that they wouldn't grow up ever having to scan the environment they're in before they yell for their moms.
That feels a little less certain today.