The last time a gunman successfully targeted a gay bar was in 2000, at the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Va. The shooter, a former Marine named Ronald Gay, who later said he had been taunted for his name all his life and hated it. At the Backstreet, he killed Danny Overstreet, 43, and wounded six others.
One of the wounded, Joel Tucker, 56, was like many other gay men in Roanoke at the time in that he was still closeted. He was so fearful about losing his job at UPS that, after being shot on Friday night, he went to work on Monday with the bullet still in his back. In the years since, Tucker has come to terms with his identity and now feels comfortable with who he is. Part of that comes from how societal attitudes have changed, part of it comes from the fact that UPS stood behind him after the shooting and part of it comes from the passage of time.
Tucker retired from UPS in April. On Sunday morning, when he woke up to the news from Orlando, he was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., visiting friends.
“I woke up and cut the TV on, saw CNN and every bit of what happened in 2000 just flooded back,” he said Sunday. “It was like it just happened, the whole thing. My ex-partner texted me and said, ‘Oh my God, did you see what happened?’ He was sitting beside me [at Backstreet]. It all just came back, tenfold. Oh my God, what a tragedy.”
Tucker said he spent the day crying, adding, “My heart goes out to all those people.”
The hardest part, he said, was “just thinking about the poor people who were in there that lost their lives, and the poor people who have to recover just because they were being themselves and not hurting anyone.”
Tucker’s friends and family members called to check on him Sunday, both because of the echoes from the Backstreet shooting but also because they knew he was in Florida and may have been in Orlando.
Gay, the gunman, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving four life sentences.
Tucker’s journey since that night in 2000 has led him to believe he has a voice to contribute. Asked what he’d tell the survivors of the Orlando shooting, he replied:
“I learned from my experience, of being shot on a Friday and being so paranoid I ended up at work on Monday morning with a bullet in my back, I learned you’ve got to get up and you’ve got to keep moving and not let this destroy your life. This could have destroyed me, and it did not. It made me stronger. It can destroy you, but you’ve got to be strong and know that God left you here for a reason.”