Members of Juneau’s LGBTQ community celebrated the beginning of Pride week with a picnic at a local park. The festive mood was darkened by collective mourning for victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday. At least 50 people were killed.
Jeff Rogers said he learned about the tragedy earlier that morning and it blew him away.
“It hits home awfully deep for the queer community during Pride to see an event like that. Our heart goes out to the victims, and the families, and everybody involved,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the shooting in Orlando reminds him why the LGBTQ community celebrates Pride.
“We celebrate Pride in memory of and as a commemoration of Stonewall where gays and trans-women were victimized and brutalized in night clubs in New York,” Rogers said.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are widely recognized as the start of the modern gay civil rights movement. The riots began when gay men and women resisted arrest in New York’s Greenwich Village during a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar.
Rogers said in a way, Pride has always been about overcoming adversity and will continue to be as the country recovers from the shock of the attack.
Richard Carter and Heather LaVerne were also struck by the timing of the attack.
“You can’t be selfish except in hindsight but I felt a little bit selfish to be out celebrating when other people were experiencing that,” Carter said.
Laverne said, “I woke up and read an article about it and started doing all this research, reading and looking to see what I can find out, but at the same time, I mean, it doesn’t help you wrap your head around it. You can’t read enough to understand why somebody would do something like that.”
State Representatives Sam Kito, Cathy Muñoz and Juneau Deputy Mayor Jesse Kiehl offered words of encouragement to picnic goers and denounced the attack in Orlando. Kiehl and Muñoz highlighted policy changes they’ve proposed to support LGBTQ rights.
Muñoz is a sponsor of a bill to prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation in the state and Kiehl has proposed a similar Juneau ordinance.
“Right now there’s nothing in Juneau law that prohibits discrimination based on race, or sex, or sexual orientation or pretty much anything else; and that’s a gap in our law right here in the capital city,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl said his ordinance would plug gaps in protection on all those fronts as well as for marital status, age, disability and gender identity.
“It will apply in housing, it will apply in credit, it will apply in the workforce and it will apply to public accommodation,” Kiehl explained.
Kiehl said he’s been told by a number of people that discrimination is a problem in Juneau.
Richard Carter agreed that discrimination should be outlawed in Juneau. He says everyone no matter their color, sex or sexual orientation is mindful of whether the community they move or travel to will be tolerant.
“Even if you’re just going on vacation out of the country you pick countries that you know you’re not going to be attacked or oppressed in,” Carter said. “I’ve been called faggot on the streets of Juneau but it doesn’t happen very often and I don’t feel in danger here and I don’t feel unwelcome here. I think overall Juneau’s been an amazing place.”
Kiehl’s ordinance is scheduled for introduction to the Juneau City Assembly Monday. The public will have an opportunity to testify on the ordinance on the Tuesday, June 21.