An off-duty Brookhaven police officer parks outside a Buford Highway nightclub, hired by the club’s managers. Security guards pat people down and search their bags. Music thumps through Club Rush’s brick walls.
It’s a recent Friday night – “Latino Night” at the club, which regularly holds special nights for lesbian and gay people. It’s also just five days after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Inside Club Rush, a poster showing the faces of the 49 slain in Orlando on June 12 had been propped up against the DJ booth. Empty beer buckets sat on the stage to collect contributions for the Orlando victims.
“I was not afraid to come tonight, but safety is definitely something we have to talk about,” said Greg Bautista.
Bautista is a member of Latino LinQ, an advocacy group for LGBT Latino people and allies. The group has pamphlets on resources, for healthcare or immigration questions, set up on a table for club goers to pick up.
“Sadly, there are those people who want to attack those of us who are different – anyone who is different,” he said. “The shooting – it hit close to home. It effects a lot communities and it could just as easily have been here, at this bar, this club.”
Moises Prado, vice president of Latino LinQ, said when he left to come to Club Rush, his partner asked him how long he would be gone. “I told him I’m not sure. And he said, you know, it’s Latino night. I said, yes, that’s why I’m going,” Prado said. Then his partner told him he was worried. “I hadn’t even thought about it but there comes the realization there is the reality of a copycat.”
Just south and across the street from Club Rush stands Quickshot Buckhead, a Brookhaven shooting range that is now the new home for the Atlanta Pink Pistols chapter.
The Orlando shooting has led to a renewed interest in the Pink Pistols, an international organization catering to LGBT gun enthusiasts. The slogan for the organization is “Pick on someone your own caliber.”
Zak Koffler, who works in Buckhead, is a regular at Quickshot Buckhead because of its location near his office. He’s been a member of the organization’s Atlanta Facebook group for many years – but after the massacre in Orlando on June 12, the number of people joining the group has jumped significantly.
“We’ve seen the group jump from 43 members to 143 people in less than a week,” he said on June 17. As of June 20, there were nearly 250 members of the Facebook group.
There are many LGBT people in the metro Atlanta area as well as throughout the state and Koffler said he is a firm believer that people who want to know how to shoot have that right and need a safe environment to learn gun safety and skills.
“After something like this [mass shooting] there is a need for people to band together, to defend themselves,” Koffler said. “It was shocking.”
At the nightclub, however, the mood was hardly grim. Performers dressed in drag lip synced to English and Spanish songs, dancing and hugging those in the audience.
Alexia G. Markova, who has hosted a Friday night Latino LGBT night on Buford Highway for more than a decade, acknowledged the victims after all the bills were collected.
“We are to here dance, just like they were … We are sad for those are no longer with us. but we are still here,” she said.