President Barack Obama delivered a somber speech in response to the massacre at the gay Orlando nightclub Pulse, where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded an additional 53 in the early hours of Sunday morning.
"This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," the president said at an address from the White House. He continued (emphasis added):
The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.
Obama's message of support in a time of deep mourning struck some as odd. "Solidarity & empowerment?" one person commented on Twitter, "Nightclubs are social movements now?"
Others echoed the sentiment:
These reactions betray a misunderstanding of the vital role that clubs have played in sustaining LGBTQ culture for generations. They have long been a haven for marginalized people. As Fusion contributor Daniel Leon-Davis, recounted, Pulse was one of his havens. In his words (emphasis added):
While a lot of people turn to churches, LGBT communities are often forced to use nightclubs as our safe haven, and Pulse was mine. Although I had built armor to defend myself from the hatred that was spewed to me when I came out (including some from my own mother), the reality was that I still hated myself because of my identity as a gay man. It didn’t help that I had grown up in a church that had conditioned me to hate myself for loving other men. Pulse was where I learned to love myself as a gay man.
On Twitter, user @Adamant_Yves explained how nightclubs emerged as a community resource for the LGBTQ community, and especially for gays and lesbians of color.
As he points out, churches provided a place for slaves to build communities, and remained an important space for future generations:
But, as he continued, religious groups, and their later iterations, often leave people out—especially those who aren't straight:
So gay communities flourished in different types of spaces:
Arguing that bars and clubs don't count as community centers also dismisses the paramount role of The Stonewall Inn in furthering the gay rights movement. In 1969, an uprising broke out around the gay New York City bar after patrons—many of them, like many of the victims at Pulse, young queer people of color— stood up to a police raid. This year, the Obama administration is expected to make the club a national monument to the LGBTQ rights movement, and New York City named it a landmark last year.
The tragedy Orlando has left us with several unknowns. Victims are still being named, police are still investigating into the attack, and the nation is waiting to see whether the killings will lead to stricter gun control laws or more hollow responses from politicians.
What we do know for sure is that Pulse, and places like Pulse, are important: that they are indeed places of solidarity, empowerment, strength and community.
You can find all of Fusion's Orlando coverage here.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.