Saturday was Latin night. More than 350 revelers flocked to Orlando’s Pulse nightclub for reggaeton, salsa and Puerto Rican drag queens. “Calling all our Latinos, Latinas & everyone that loves a little Latin flavor!” reads a Saturday evening post on the club's Facebook page. “It's time to party!”
The merriment ended with the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Forty nine people died when a gunman stormed the popular gay club, co-founded by a Florida woman who lost her brother to AIDS. Fifty-three others were injured. The gunman was also killed.
Police fatally shot the assailant, identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old resident of south-central Florida. Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, told NBC News Sunday morning that his son had gotten angry months earlier when he saw two men kissing in Miami in front of his young son. The Islamic State, which condemns homosexuality, has taken responsibility for the attack, and authorities say Mateen had pledged allegiance to the group.
In a speech Sunday afternoon, President Obama called the rampage “an act of terror and an act of hate.” Still, it's not clear why Mateen targeted the gay nightclub.
A recent national Gallup survey found 3.8 percent of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay or transgender. Relative to that estimated population size, LGBT individuals face higher rates of violence than heterosexual residents, according to years of FBI data.
Since 1991, more than 100,000 hate crimes have been reported to the FBI. Sexual orientation ranked as the third-highest motivator for the violence during that time, cited in 17 percent of the total attacks, according to a 2009 analysis from the Human Rights Campaign. Race-motivated attacks tend to be the most prevalent, followed by religion-based attacks.
Human Rights Campaign researchers looked at the incidence of violence in 2007:
The group said hate crimes against gay, lesbian and bisexual people are likely underreported. “Sexual orientation and gender identity-based hate crimes may not be perceived as bias-motivated by responding officer because of their inexperience, lack of education or their own biases,” researchers wrote.
A more recent FBI breakdown shows hate crimes based on sexual orientation have decreased in recent years. The agency recorded 1,017 in 2014, down from 1,265 in 2007.
The FBI said sexual orientation motivated 18.6 percent of all hate crimes in 2014, compared with 20.8 percent of such attacks the previous year:
Earlier this year, the Washington Blade examined an Islamic State propaganda video for anti-gay content.
Near the end of the footage, a fighter speaks about his perception of homosexual influence in public schools. “Who’s gonna teach your children?” he says. “It’s gonna be maybe a gay, maybe a drug dealer, maybe a pedophile, you know? So it’s very important for you to protect your children from these animals, from these dirty people, Allah says that they are the worst of creatures.”
Robert Domenico, a board member of the Center, Center, which offers free HIV testing and counseling to the LGBT community (and heterosexual visitors) in Orlando, said the city had been celebrating LGBT pride month at local clubs and Disney World. A man proposed to his boyfriend on stage at a Kesha concert last week in Orlando.
“We’ve been up since 6 a.m., bringing food and Gatorade to the hospital," Domenico said. "This has shocked us. This has shaken the world.”
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