York LGBT community: 'It's terrifying'
As word spread Sunday morning that the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history had taken place hours earlier inside a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 50 people and injuring 53 others, York's LGBT community took to phones, to social media and to local gatherings to mourn.
Shortly after 2 a.m., a gunman later identified as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, entered Pulse Nightclub armed with an automatic rifle and opened fire. By the time Orlando police — in full SWAT gear and using tactical response equipment — forced their way into the club three hours later, killing Mateen, more than 100 people lay injured or dead.
Carla Christopher, a York City-based teacher and founder of the city's annual Equality Fest that celebrates the LGBT community and its rights, said she was at church when she learned of the scope of the attack.
"I was in church and as we were doing the prayers, our pastor said that it had been in an LGBT venue and that more than 50 people have been killed," Christopher said. "It felt like someone had kicked me in the chest. It felt like my heart stopped."
Safe space: She said she had seen initial reports that a mass shooting had taken place early Sunday morning, but that information at that time had been limited. Her response to the news of where the shooting took place and how devastating the attack had been was visceral.
"People are devastated. I mean, the fact that this is the deadliest mass shooting in our entire history and that these are all LGBT people or people in an LGBT venue, it's terrifying," Christopher said.
She explained that people in the gay community have over the years become accustomed to being fearful in the workplace and to avoiding certain areas where they know the risk of being ridiculed, or worse, is likely.
"As gay people, we are used to workplaces not being safe. We are used to, you know, don't go to certain places, especially if you are dressed more stylishly or flamboyantly, " she said. "Don't be obviously gay."