Despite advances in basic human rights for LGBTQ people — marriage equality last June and the White House's transgender bathroom rights directive in May — life in America can still be difficult and dangerous. According to the FBI's most recent statistics cited by the Human Rights Campaign, homophobic and/or transphobic crimes made up more than 20 percent of all reported hate crimes in 2014.
The shooting at Orlando gay nightclub Pulse early Sunday reinforces that, but it didn't stop a large crowd from gathering Sunday night at Club Q, a local LGBTQ nightclub, for a solidarity vigil.
"Attacks like this anywhere are attacks everywhere" says Doe Schall, a recent Palmer High School graduate. "There's no queer space on the entire planet that isn't affected by this."
Asked why the vigil was important, Schall said, "We have to be there to... keep each other safe and keep each other supported, and [to] stand up to acts of pathetic hatred like this and say, 'You cannot frighten us into silence.'"
Schall says places like Club Q and Pulse are often the only safe spaces for LGBTQ people to present their gender identities or show affection toward partners.
English teacher Heidi Beedle, who attended the vigil, says she was hit with disbelief and sadness but wasn't surprised at the shooting, saying, "It might have something to do with the fact that for the last year and a half, they've been demonizing LGBT people in the political spectrum and in the public spectrum."
She suggests better education and gun control reforms could help prevent more attacks.
Steve Ellington, a local student, also felt it was important to be out and visible at the vigil as part of the local LGBTQ community.
"People need to stop all of the hate talk and look at what it's really about," he says. "If you look at the heart of Christianity, the heart of Islam, the heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, it's all about love. These extremists who are saying, 'Let's see Obama die, let's see all the gays die, let's see this group die, or kill all of them.' ... That kind of hatred, that kind of temporal power, it doesn't last. It dies. It's the love that connects us that makes us people."
After the vigil, Club Q's Sunday night drag show went on as planned, with all tips going into the charity pot.
"Why not use that to do something good for the community?" says hostess Mani Queen. Between the tips, money raised at the vigil, an art auction and a contribution from Club Q, the Springs' LGBTQ scene raised $3,000 for the GLBT Center of Central Florida to support families of the victims. She adds that while recipients might be special, it's not the first time Club Q's kings and queens have performed for charity.
"Being a drag queen, we're pretty, we get to have fun, we're horribly crass, but there's a power to it that you have to use," Mani Queen says. "You have to support your community, because without my community, I'm just a man in a dress looking like a clown."
Charity aside, drag queens are a big part of LGBTQ history and America's gay liberation movement. The Stonewall riots of June 1969 began as a response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar and refuge for LGBTQ folks of all stripes, including black and Latina drag queens and transwomen. Cross-dressing, at the time, ended careers and relationships alike. By all accounts, drag queens and homeless youth were the first to fight back against police.
In 2000, the Stonewall Inn was declared a national historic landmark. President Barack Obama described the riots as a civil rights watershed in his 2013 inaugural speech. Historian Nicholas Edsall compared the event to Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus.
According to drag performer Derek Austin Roberts, who performs at Club Q as Orion Galaxxxy, "Without drag queens, we basically wouldn't have pride."