‘Completely numb’: Vancouver’s LGBT communities react to Orlando massacre

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“We need to be vigilant and protect each other and be there for each other. It’s very important.”

By Raffery Baker and Liam Britten, CBC News Posted: Jun 14, 2016

The Pride flag at Vancouver city hall flies and half-mast after a massacre left 50 people dead at a gay club in Orlando, Florida.

The Pride flag at Vancouver city hall flies and half-mast after a massacre left 50 people dead at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

“We were stunned. My first reaction was to be completely numb,” said lesbian, queer lawyer barbara findlay in her Vancouver-West End office.

findlay, who has practiced law for decades for LGBT communities, was having brunch with her partner and friends when she first heard the news that 49 people were dead after a massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“I had no trouble believing it. I had no trouble believing it,” findlay repeated. “You know, our communities have been subject to violence of all kinds over many years, even in Canada. Many people that I know have been gay-bashed, have been terrified of walking in gay pride parades or demonstrations against the bathhouse raids.”

barbara findlay

Lawyer barbara findlay learned about the massacre over brunch with friends. “We were stunned. My first reaction was to be completely numb,” she says. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

“There continues to be an underlying level of violence against queers, against people of colour, against Muslims, against indigenous people, and that it would erupt, especially in the United States where guns are so easy to come by surprises me not at all.”

According to findlay, the scale of the massacre is different than the violence she’s seen in her lifetime representing LGBT clients, but the spirit of violence and hate is not.

“We’re not removed from Orlando. We’re not removed from Uganda. We’re not removed from any place anywhere in the world where queers are routinely, and sometimes with state sanction, murdered, beaten up, incarcerated, taunted, excluded, made other. We are all one,” she said.

Spencer Chandra Herbert

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert cried when he first heard the news that 50 people were dead after an attack at a gay club in Orlando. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

For Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, the news of the massacre came while he was in Quesnel marking Pride weekend.

“I looked online and saw the horrific news out of Orlando and what could you do but cry when you think about people who were enjoying a night out on the town being murdered for being gay,” he said.

“I cried, and I don’t cry very often, because, well, that’s not the kind of guy I am, but it just hit so close to home to think about people, to think about my own community, to think about the impact this kind of event has on people’s feeling of safety, on their ability to be themselves and just as well just to reflect on this isn’t the only time this has happened, and it won’t be the last time, unfortunately.”

Chandra Herbert’s constituency office was subject to a violent attack in 2014. The MLA claims that Michael Williams, 53 at the time, shouted homophobic slurs. Williams was ultimately convicted of assault for punching Chandra Herbert’s assistant.

“In 2016, I’m so fed up with this. When can we get past this. We make so many gains and then you see something like this and it feels like a lot of this has been wiped out again, but all we can do is soldier on, move on, work on, educate on, love harder, embrace our friends harder and know that we are making headway, we are making gains,” he said.

Imtiaz Popat

“In your own community there’s homophobia and then in the gay community there’s racism, there’s Islamophobia,” Imtiaz Popat said. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Imtiaz Popat, coordinator of the Salaam Vancouver’s Queer Muslim Community, says the Orlando shooting and it’s fallout illustrates the “double jeopardy” gay Muslims like himself live with.

“In your own community there’s homophobia and then in the gay community there’s racism, there’s Islamophobia,” he told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

“So every time there’s a so-called terrorist attack, we start cringing right away. Because we’re afraid of being looked and pointed at, being blamed for what happened, and that happens —  particularly in a close community like the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirited community”

Popat says for gay Muslims, it’s hard to feel safe anywhere, and the attack in Florida should inspire the entire LGBT community to come together and fight homophobia together.

“We need to be vigilant and protect each other and be there for each other. It’s very important.”

Randy Newburg

“It was very shocking. Very shocking,” says Fountainhead Pub Director of Operations Randy Newburg. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

At the Fountainhead Pub, a hotspot for the Vancouver LGBT community, director of operations Randy Newburg is trying to come to terms with the violence in Orlando.

“Well, it was pretty shocking, extremely shocking, because you never know — it could happen here, anywhere. That’s the scary part,” he said.

“I think everybody’s still trying to understand what happened, but it was a hate crime.”

Newburg wasn’t at the pub when he heard the news on Sunday, but he got a call because a customer, David McMann had paid $1,000 to “pay-it-forward” and cover many of the other patrons’ bar tabs.

“He wanted to do something good and basically, so we had walked around with a little note to the tables,” said Newburg. “From what I heard, a lot of people were in tears after they heard that their bill was being paid for, so it was very emotional.”

The Fountainhead Pub management decided to match McCann’s gesture, and covered another $1,000 in food and drinks.

With files from CBC Radio One’s On The Coast