Stonewall Columbus' Karla Rothan on danger and defiance after Orlando
Laughter floats from the Union Cafe patio onto the adjacent sidewalk in the Short North. It's happy hour on a hot June evening, sun shining and voices mingling in relaxed conversation as the clock ticks past 5. It would appear to be a typical summery Monday but for the candles, black ribbons and gladiolas adorning the fence at the patio's edge.
(Photo by Chris Gaitten)
Less than two days earlier a gunman opened fire inside Pulse, a crowded LGBT nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring another 53 in the worst such massacre in modern U.S. history. The shockwaves and sadness spread around the world, including Columbus, as evidenced by the memorial at Union, one of the city's most popular LGBT venues.
On the evening of Sunday, June 12, mourners converged on Stonewall Columbus-Central Ohio's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center-in a gathering of solidarity, says Stonewall Executive Director Karla Rothan. They wanted to be together as they watched the president address the tragedy, and then leaders spoke to the crowd, discussing what it meant to be supportive and gather as a family. They walked to a vigil at Goodale Park hosted by the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization before going to Union to garnish the patio with symbols of unity and remembrance.
(Photo by Chris Gaitten)
Rothan says donations have poured in from the public and the city's LGBT bars and clubs, and she hopes to send them to the victims' families in Orlando. The Florida tragedy-along with reports of a similar threat to the Los Angeles gay pride parade later that same day-weighs particularly heavy on members of the Columbus LGBT community as they prepare for this weekend's local Pride parade and festival, organized by Stonewall. Rothan and her fellow festival coordinators have also been dealing with the pragmatic concerns raised by the shooting, meeting with Mayor Andy Ginther, Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs and Homeland Security agents to assure that the Columbus event is protected from violence.
Rothan spoke about grief, safety, celebration and resilience as she prepared for the annual Pride commencement ceremony Monday night at Columbus City Hall, where the building's white façade takes on the colors of the rainbow.
What was the mood Sunday night like?
It was, I think, one of a family; you know, people wanting to come together, hang out together, be together. I think it was one of defiance in a lot of ways because we all basically did our thing throughout the day and then went to the biggest LGBTQ bars that we could find and hung out there in solidarity. So I think we're showing people that we're not afraid. We're not going to hide. We're not going to be fearful. We're going to live our lives, and we did it right away.
I know there was concern last year about the potential for backlash after the historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, and that largely did not seem to materialize. Do you think that the LGBT community felt that the risk of this type of thing had diminished now, a year later?
We always think there's a risk, whenever we walk down the street and hold our partner's hand, when we walk in public or kiss our partner or walk into a gay establishment-lesbian, bisexual, transgender establishment-whenever we walk anywhere, we know who we are, and we are always, in the back of our mind, always aware that (there) is a potential threat out there to hurt us. So that's nothing new to us. We're used to it, we've had to deal with it for a very long time, and I don't know that anybody ever erases that from their mind. So we live with that every day. We live with the trauma of actually being a marginalized community and being a target. So we know that going in, but we're not going to allow it to make us fearful, and we're going to stand up, and we're going to march down the street, and we're going to make sure we can make it the safest and happiest Pride we can do.
Last time we talked, you had mentioned that you've got a good relationship with the Columbus police. How does that help to plan an event of this magnitude, specifically given the conditions that we're under right now?
Columbus is one of the best divisions in the nation, and so that's great. Accessibility is awesome. We have a liaison that we work with, Nick Konves, and he is outstanding, and he works directly with the chief, with regards to our community specifically. And then, of course, Chief Jacobs-very accessible, down to earth and (a) highly skilled individual who really knows what she's doing. She works very (well) with the FBI, (and) of course Homeland Security, to create a plan that we all can work on, and she did that today in her press conference, and we were thrilled to hear that.
Do you think that the shooting will have an effect on attendance for this year's Pride?
I think if anything it will create even more attendance.
You think people will kind of come together and show their solidarity and their resilience?
Yeah, I think that allies are going to come out in huge numbers for us. There's a lot of people in our straight community that really want to show their support, and they've been calling, sending cards, sending letters, sending emails, saying, "I'm with you, we're with you, and we're going to march in spite of the terror."
(Photo by Chris Gaitten)
Columbus' Pride festival begins Friday, June 17, at Goodale Park at 4 p.m. The parade steps off at Front and Broad streets Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. and will conclude at Goodale for ongoing festivities. Rothan says that Pride will have beefed-up security from Columbus police, specialty police officers and private security, as well as a presence from the Columbus Division of Fire. She still recommends attendees be vigilant and tell an official if they see something suspicious.
To donate to the Orlando victims, visit stonewallcolumbus.org/Orlando.