Following the massacre early Sunday morning at a well-known gay club in Florida — a mass slaying that killed 50 and is being called the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history” — law enforcement officers, government officials and members of the LGBT community were quick to respond in Louisiana.
Authorities were investigating the attack on the Florida dance hall as an act of terrorism. The gunman, who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group and was reported to hate gay people, opened fire with an assault-type rifle and a handgun before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers.
The 50 deaths surpassed the 32 people killed in the 1973 fire at the Upstairs Lounge in the French Quarter, until now the largest death toll in an attack on a gay gathering place in the United States.
Although Tyler Gamble, spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said Sunday there were “no credible threats” in New Orleans at this time, Mayor Mitch Landrieu bemoaned what he called a funding crisis on a national level for dealing with terrorist attacks.
“One of the things that is common between Paris, San Bernardino, Boston, Orlando and New Orleans is that local law enforcement have become the counter-terrorism force for the United States of America,” Landrieu told WWL-TV. “And the United States of America has not provided the funding we need to have the manpower, technology and resources to protect ourselves to the extent that you can.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards said acts of terrorism such as the shooting in Orlando deeply affect citizens across the country, including in Louisiana.
Edwards had recently declared June as “LGBT Pride Month” in Louisiana, recognizing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people ahead of the annual gay rights pride march to the State Capitol.
“This is a senseless tragedy of unimaginable scale,” Edwards said Sunday, adding that he “stood ready” to support Florida. “In the face of adversity, as we always do, we stand united against acts of terrorism that threaten our people and our way of life.”
While local or state law enforcement didn’t reveal any plans to immediately increase security in the French Quarter, local bar owners and participants in forthcoming gay pride events said they already were discussing ways to make members of the LGBT community feel secure.
Among them was Jeff Plamquist, who works at the Bourbon Street club Café Lafitte in Exile. Plamquist is slated to be a grand marshal of this year’s Southern Decadence festival, a New Orleans tradition since the 1970s.
Held each Labor Day weekend, Southern Decadence has become New Orleans’ largest gay event. Last year’s attendance broke all records, according to its website, with more than 180,000 participants.
“Without a doubt, that is one of our concerns with the Southern Decadence parade, having police and security in place,” Plamquist said. “We will meet about that. It’s just right now — everyone’s in shock.”
A bartender and the owner of the Bourbon Pub/Parade, another LGBT bar, were also considering beefing up security for New Orleans Pride, scheduled for June 17-19 in the French Quarter.
Members of the LGBT community in New Orleans were reacting on social media, with many comparing the Orlando slaughter to the June 1973 Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans. In that incident, 32 people died and many more were injured in an apparent arson fire at a gay nightclub at Iberville and Chartres streets.
On the day of the attack, the buzzer sounded at the club’s door downstairs. When the bartender asked a patron to see who it was, he opened the door to the stairwell and was met with a wave of flames.
Someone apparently had started a fire with lighter fluid in the stairwell. As the fire spread to the carpet and up the drapes, the bartender led 30 people, some badly injured, to safety through a back door, but dozens more were trapped inside. Some ran to windows, but they were secured with burglar bars.
Wayne Self, the author of the musical “Upstairs,” recalled the tragedy on Sunday.
“If I learned anything from my work on ‘Upstairs,’ it was that hatred, religiosity, politics and insanity are hard to distinguish in the mind of a murderer,” Self said on social media. “It’s easy to pick an ideology to blame, but the reality is much more complex.”
Meanwhile, other members of New Orleans’ LGBT community were busy Sunday planning events meant to memorialize those killed during the Orlando attack.
Sunday’s scheduled events included a candlelight march organized by the Big Easy Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. It was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at GrandPre’s, a bar on North Rampart Street, and travel through the French Quarter.
Others were planning a 7:30 p.m. gathering at Cabrini Bridge, where residents planned to light candles, sit in lawn chairs and pay respects to the shooting victims.
And about 3,000 people were invited to a 9 p.m. candlelit memorial on the Moonwalk along the Mississippi River in the French Quarter. Candles would be lit at 9 p.m. and stay lit for one minute for every victim in Orlando, organizers wrote on the event’s Facebook page.
Scheduled speakers included historian Frank Perez, of the organization LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana; Shelly Planellas with the New Covenant Church New Orleans; and the Rev. Alison Rowland, pastor of the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Church.
Rowland issued a news release urging people to “stand with a single voice” with the LGBT community.
“Although law enforcement professionals are still gathering information, there is little doubt that this morning’s crime in Orlando was a result of hatred toward the LGBT community and misguided religious belief,” he said.
Rowland said the attack, and its response, would have a “global” impact.
“Yes, we can pray. Yes, we can make financial donations. Yes, we can donate blood,” Rowland said. “But we also have to stand with a single voice to tell the world — and LGBT citizens and allies — that no act of violence can undo the great strides we have made.”
Edward R. Cox, a theatrical director, designer and actor in New Orleans, was using his Facebook page on Sunday to share information on where to donate blood, and to share a widely circulated fundraising page called Pulse Tragedy Community Fund.
The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida was operating the account and by Sunday afternoon had raised more than $87,000 for the victims and their families.