By Joseph L. Garcia
SEVERAL NEWS OUTLETS reported on the haunting din of the ringing of mobile phones on the early morning of June 12 in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, a popular hangout for the LGBTQ crowd in the city in Florida. A shooter, identified as Omar Mateen, gunned down 49 people in the nightclub. Frantic loved ones called these cellphones, hoping to find out if their child, parent, sibling, friend was safe — but because they were no more, the phone calls went unanswered. The attack goes down in history as one of the deadliest mass shootings, and one of the worst attacks on LGBTQ people — so far.
On a sunny day about a month after the shootings, cellphones were in the hands of bar patrons in Dallas, Texas “gayborhood” Oak Lawn, not for any emergency but to catch Pokemon on the immensely popular new video game, Pokemon Go. The sun was shining, the rainbow flags were waving, and people laughed and played as if nothing was wrong. Yet just a few days before BusinessWorld visited Dallas, five police officers were killed in a shooting after the conclusion of what was supposed to have been a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
But then walking around the neighborhood, one could see in unlit clubs, closed for the afternoon, signs that fear bleeds into the rainbow flag. Bigger bags and guns have been banned in some clubs.
“We’re definitely being much more conscientious about security,” said Adam Lynn, General Manager of Cedar Springs Tap House, established in 1980. The bar is an imposing black establishment with purple wainscotting on the outside, and the purple motif is repeated inside. Mr. Lynn described having armed security within the building, as well as an increased police presence. “They’re really great about coming through with making additional patrols through the bar, by the bar, and we’re all definitely keeping an eye out for anything that looks suspicious.”
Oak Lawn, voted by Out Traveler as the top “gayborhood” of 2014, first got its reputation as one in the early 1970s, and is close to the Dallas Design District (geographically and perhaps, figuratively). Texas isn’t exactly known as the hotbed of cultural and sexual liberalism, so how do gay businesses fare in such a state?
“Dallas is a very, very… kind of unique area,” said Mr. Lynn. “Most of our bigger cities are pretty liberal, especially in Dallas.”
As both Orlando and Dallas belong to the American South, a region known for its conservatism, BusinessWorld tried to find out how Dallas received the tragedy in a city a bit farther down the map, in a space that hits close to home. As an example, the windows of Cedar Springs Tap House were painted with the names of the 49 people who died in Pulse on June 12.
“In smaller towns, maybe, but here in Dallas, we found the [community] very friendly and supportive… we’ve had no… issues, you know, as far as being a gay business in a state like this.”
In another bar, Alexandre’s, down the same street, BusinessWorld interviewed a bartender, Ike Dharamsi, who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow-striped fist raised in protest. “Texas is conservative, but luckily Oak Lawn isn’t really so much. It’s definitely like an enclave though, like, even using the shirt, walking down the street, because there’s a rainbow on it; it’s very obvious that it’s gay iconography… you can get side-eyed, [get] weird looks, but once… you’re in this neighborhood… it kind of disappears.
“I don’t really go too far out the neighborhood often, but when I do, every once in a while…” and he trails off.
Although Mr. Dharamsi also talked about a heightened police presence, it looks like it doesn’t solve much (hate) crime: the T-shirts fund a charity, the efforts of which help survivors and families affected in a spate of attacks (30, by Mr. Dharamsi’s count) of LGBTQ people around the Oak Lawn neighborhood in the past 10 months. According to him, there were 17 reported attacks, and 15 unreported attacks. But the numbers don’t matter, for according to him, “No arrests at all, so far.” In fact, the charity was established by a survivor of one such attack, where he was stabbed in front of Cedar Springs Tap House.
Fourty-nine people dead in Orlando, more injured; five cops shot in Dallas, around 30 people attacked in the same city: the numbers add up, in different cities across the world; and the numbers make you want to cower in fear. “I think, for the first 24 hours (after the shootings in Orlando), people were really in a lot of shock, and people definitely… took a little pause… ‘Do I really wanna go down to the gayborhood?’,” said Mr. Lynn. Mr. Dharamsi meanwhile said, “It’s something that everybody feels. I know… several people… no relatives [in Orlando]… no family; nothing, sat here and cried on the bar for three hours the next day.”
But just the next day, the rainbow flag in Dallas waved on, and urged people to come out in the streets, to drink; to dance.
“But the next day, that Monday, we were incredibly busy. Just talking to patrons, a lot of them said… we wanted to come out and support our gay businesses and… to let people know that we’re not going to live in fear,”said Mr. Lynn.
Mr. Dharamsi, meanwhile, said, “I do know some people who have been scared off, and like, no longer come out, but I think the opposite response is what we should be doing.
“After people heard about Orlando, we got a surge in the sales of the T-shirts again, because people wanted like, a sign of community, a sign that… we’re not gonna go away; we’re in our neighborhood, and we’re gonna stay here.”
A gayborhood is a safe space: this is where people of every stripe on the LGBTQ rainbow can go in a world that’s not always bright and understanding; where they’ll always find someone like them, in some form or another. “This neighborhood is literally a few blocks,” said Mr. Dharamsi. What do they think about having a world where a gay person can feel safe in any block, especially since even safe spaces can now be dangerous?
“I think we’ve kind of accepted that it’s the world we live in. It’s always shocking and you take a little pause when something like that happens, but I think… they realize… if you stay and hide, you let the bad guys win,” said Mr. Lynn.
“We’re not going to live in fear and hide… in the dark from these people,” he said.
“I do, kind of,” said Mr. Dharamsi about wanting a gay-friendly world not confined within a few city blocks. “But I also think it’s nice to have a separate space where… people just feel comfortable being who they are; not worried that someone’s going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re too queeny, or, you’re a faggot’.
“We hear that enough.”