Congressional candidate Bob Poe is a former Florida Democratic Party chairman who just days before the shooting publicly revealed he is HIV-positive and happens to be running in Orlando. The Fix spoke to him this week about the entire situation and the political reaction to it. Our conversation has been edited for length.
THE FIX: How are you doing in the wake of Orlando? My understanding is the LGBT community there is pretty tightknit.
POE: It really is. A lot of communities have six degrees of separation, but in the LGBT community, it's one or two. I don't know anybody who directly was injured or killed, but I know many people who knew people directly. When most people think of Orlando, they don't think of an LGBT community. But when you look at the statistics, it's one of the largest in the country.
[Editor's note: Advocate in 2014 named Orlando the 13th gayest city in America.]
THE FIX: A few days before this shooting, you publicly shared a secret: that 18 years ago you were diagnosed with having HIV. A politician talking about his HIV diagnosis is arguably a big moment in the gay rights debate. Then this shooting happened. Broadly speaking, how do you think Orlando will reframe the gay rights debate?
POE: I think people see in a very real sense — in a very crass sense — we bleed just like they do. And we hurt just like they do. And we love just like they do. That begins to erase this "otherness" that is perpetrated by the people who don't like us. I think the one thing people can see as a result of this is that now we're just like any other community. There's a real normal-ness, if you will, about us. There's a sameness about our community as any other community.
THE FIX: Nationally, the discussion after Orlando turned political almost immediately. Have there been political conversations in your community, too?
POE: What I'm hearing is: Maybe the LGBT community could galvanize around this whole issue of an assault weapons ban. And I think that could be an interesting development, because if the LGBT community uses this political power and muscle — which it has shown it can do very effectively nationwide — to get behind this issue, maybe this community could do what other communities who have tried so very hard to do in the aftermath of a disaster like this couldn't.
There's a sense that maybe the LGBT community can finally break through the logjam on gun control. Maybe the LGBT community has been called upon to now act on this.
[Editor's note: A Reuters column published Wednesday by George Washington University homeland security professor Frederic Lemieux makes that same argument: "[Omar] Mateen may have cemented an alliance between gun-regulation advocacy groups and the well-organized LGBT social movement. It could catalyze the mobilization of a united front that expands the political and social reach critical for passing meaningful gun regulations."]
THE FIX: Talk to me about the LGBT community's political clout. Where is it concentrated?
POE: We're in practically every congressional office. Look at how many people we have in the White House, in the executive branch, alone. How many people we have in the various agencies who are now out and authentic. Look at the secretary of the Army [who is the first openly gay head of a branch of the U.S. military].
And because we can be out and authentic, we can wield a great deal of influence in our community to get things done. We've shown that. Against all odds. People five years ago were saying, "Oh, you're not going to get marriage." We have marriage. We've shown that when we are determined, we can get things done.
THE FIX: Things like bathroom and religious freedom bills seem to have taken up much of the oxygen in today's gay rights debate. What makes you think there's room to take on guns, too?
POE: In a post-marriage world, the gay community can talk about other things. There are other civil rights issues we need to be talking about, because people can still get married on a Saturday and fired on Monday and thrown out of their houses on Tuesday. But we're concerned about our communities in a much broader fashion than ever before, and we can take on this issue.