June 13, 2016 7:30 pm
Updated: June 13, 2016 8:09 pm

Orlando shooting: Why LGBTQ pride and gay bars still matter

WATCH: Coverage of the attack on Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

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The massacre of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub happened as many cities across North America and other parts of the globe mark LGBTQ pride month.

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While Orlando’s annual pride celebration, Come Out With Pride, won’t take place until October, one of the event’s organizers said the local LGBTQ community has a “healing process” ahead of it but will be united in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting.

“We want to be able to live openly, with pride, and oppose prejudice in our society, “Come Out With Pride president Brian Riha told Global News in a phone interview Monday. “We will stand strong and prevail.”

READ MORE: #GaysBreaktheInternet: People coming out online in wake of Orlando shooting

Riha said Sunday’s attack — the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history — will add momentum to the fight for LGBTQ equality.

The LGBTQ rights movement itself was born out of a response to discrimination and violence against members of gay community.

Among the many vigils held to pay tribute to the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting was a crowd of several hundred mourners surrounding New York’s Stonewall Inn, a site considered to be the “birthplace” of the LGBTQ rights movement in the U.S.

Forty-seven years ago this month, on June 28, the Stonewall riots broke out after patrons of the Stonewall Inn took a stand against police raids on the venue. At the time, homosexual sex was still a crime in all but one state in the country — Illinois — and police regularly raided establishments known to be frequented by gay people.

The violent clashes between protesters and riot police continued for several nights and led to calls for equal rights for LGBTQ people. The following June, the first gay pride march took place in New York.

Decades later, pride events take place in communities large and small around the world. And in the years since the first pride march, more than 20 countries have legalized same-sex marriages or civil unions and dozens more have laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

But acceptance of LGBTQ people is far from universal, even within Canada and the U.S., and homosexuality and homosexual sex are against the law in more than 70 countries — in some cases punishable by death.

Although pride has, in many cities, taken on a more celebratory tone over time, Toronto human rights lawyer and former journalist Patric Senson said the Orlando shooting is a reminder that communities can’t become “complacent” about discrimination and hatred still directed at the LGBTQ community.

“It’s a wake-up to let the rest of the world know… that this still happens,” Senson told Global News. “On a very subconscious level, for probably most [LGBTQ community] members, this is their worst nightmare because we’re always afraid of violence.”

Senson said it wasn’t just that this was an attack targeting the LGBTQ community; it was a violation of a what was believed to be safe space — a gay bar.

READ MORE: Orlando shooting: A look at past attacks on LGBTQ venues in the U.S.

Senson said that was part of what motivated him to sit down and write a personal and heartfelt Facebook post about the importance of LGBTQ pride.

“Gay bars are, and always have been, a safe space. Unless you’ve lived life as a queer person, I’m not sure you can appreciate how different it feels to be in a place where, for a few hours at least, you can totally let down your guard and not be afraid to be. I’ve been to straight clubs and it’s not the same. Every move, every look is choreographed to avoid being seen as a threat or a victim. And now one of our sanctuaries has been violated. A place of safety thrown into chaos and young lives lost simply for being in a place where they could live without fear.”

Having been the target of homophobic violence in the past, Senson said no matter how comfortable LGBTQ people may feel in their daily lives there is often a need to “live a guarded life.”

“[Pride] is a place where we tell the rest of the world — and tell ourselves — that it’s OK, that being a member of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t be something where we have to be guarded.”

READ MORE: Days before Orlando shooting, Barack Obama warned of ISIS sympathizers legally buying guns in U.S.

While there has been a lot of progress for LGBTQ rights over the years since the Stonewall Riots, University of British Columbia associate professor of sociology Amin Ghaziani said granting formal rights — such as the right to marry or to adopt children — doesn’t mean the public is always willing to “grant informal privileges, like the freedom to express affection in public places.”

He pointed out the father of Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub gunman, said in an interview his son was a “bit ticked off” after seeing two men kissing in Miami.

“LGBTQ pride and LGBTQ establishments/bars offer a space of freedom and solidarity… These spaces are vital, life-affirming, and we need them now more than ever,” Amin, author of the book There Goes the Gaybourhood told Global News in an email.

“The Orlando massacre may have been the largest mass shooting in the U.S., but it represents a sentiment that was not isolated to just this one person. Sexual prejudice remains inflamed in western societies, despite legislative progress toward equality.”

WATCH: Canadians react to Orlando shooting

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