In the News

LI Herald: Pride for Youth holds tearful vigil for Orlando victims

LGBT community fearful after worst attack in U.S. history

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Long Island, NY, June 13, 2016 | Coleman Lamb ((202) 225-5516) | comments
By Scott Brinton

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last Sunday, has the South Shore’s LGBT community reeling. The community, many within it say, has long been a target of violence. Gay nightclubs were supposed to be their safe havens. Now they wonder whether there’s anywhere to gather without fear of violence.

That’s according to Pete Carney, director of Pride for Youth, a Bellmore-based nonprofit organization that serves the area’s youth lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The group held a tearful, two-hour candlelight vigil at its Bellmore Avenue office on Monday evening. An estimated 100 to 150 mourners spilled out of the organization’s recreation room into the hall and down a staircase. Two Nassau County police officers stood guard outside. More were inside.

“I just really hope that this will start a conversation about how we, as Americans, view the LGBT community and how we respond to homophobic language and rhetoric,” Carney said in an interview earlier in the day.

According to the FBI, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who was born and raised in the U.S. by Afghan parents, opened fire on a crush of revelers at the Pulse nightclub near closing at 2 a.m. on June 12, killing 49 and wounding 53. Authorities shot and killed Mateen in a firefight.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

“We pretty much see this as an outright attack on the LGBT community,” Carney said. “There are those that want to paint this as a broad stroke with terrorism … but the reality is that gay people were targeted. We were targeted at a gay nightclub. The one place that you can feel safe is in a gay nightclub … It’s an attack at the very heart of who we are.”

According to published reports, Mateen had expressed homophobic sentiments and was angered after he saw gay men kissing in Orlando. At the same time, he had reportedly called authorities during the massacre to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organization.

“What yesterday does is bring all the fear that we live with regularly to the forefront,” Carney said. He cited a recent incident in Nassau County in which a young gay man had rotten food hurled onto him from a passing car while the perpetrator screamed, “Faggot!”

Taking on assault weapons

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City who represents Bellmore and Merrick, offered her condolences after the massacre. “The shooting in Orlando was a horrific tragedy,” she said, “and I’m praying for all those who lost loved ones in the attack, all the victims still fighting to survive and the entire Orlando LGBT community.”

Rice noted that Mateen carried out the attack with a semiautomatic assault-style rifle and handgun, both of which he legally purchased from a Florida gun shop, despite his having been questioned by the FBI about possible terrorist ties.

“We know that this man carried out the worst mass shooting in American history by using an AR-15 military-style assault rifle –– the same type of weapon used in mass shootings at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., among others,” Rice said.

“These kinds of guns aren’t used for sport or self-defense,” she continued. “They are weapons of war, designed to inflict massive casualties in a short amount of time, and there is absolutely no reason why they should be sold to civilians.”

The AR-15 is a modified version of the M16 rifle, developed by the U.S. military for jungle warfare in Vietnam. The AR-15 can fire up to 180 rounds per minute and sells for $500 to $700.

Rice has co-sponsored legislation in the House of Representatives to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban, which was included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and was in effect from 1994 to 2004. Congress allowed the measure to expire. Reinstatement of the legislation is not expected in a Republican-controlled Congress.

“I don’t care how much money extremists like the National Rifle Association] spend to defeat these bills,” Rice said. “The American people want to see action, and I’ll keep fighting to get these common-sense measures passed before we all have to turn on the TV and see another one of our public spaces turned into a scene of unimaginable horror.”

Seven states –– California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York –– and the District of Columbia have passed assault-weapons bans of their own.

At press time, the NRA had not issued a statement on the Orlando massacre.

Communication breakdown?

State Assemblyman David McDonough, a Republican from North Merrick, is chairman of the Assembly’s Republican Task Force on Public Safety. He regularly communicates with the FBI, Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security.

The FBI had interviewed Mateen twice after reports that he had expressed terrorist thoughts. The agency, however, found no evidence to suggest that he would carry out an attack.

“I don’t think the FBI is to be questioned,” McDonough said. “They do the best job they can.”

He, though, did say, “The minute the FBI interrogates anyone, they should forward that file to the local authority so they can put a watch on them.”

Whether Mateen was known to local Orlando authorities was unclear.
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