Sanctity of Gay Club

PhotographerBill Kotsatos
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

The Pulse nightclub shootings wasn’t just an attack on the gay community, but also an attack on those similar safe spaces gay clubs offer no matter the city, country or continent on which they stand. The Sanctity of Gay Clubs takes an intimate look into what some of these establishments mean to its patrons, and how each person, despite the horrific events in Orlando, still feels free to be themselves.

Story

As much as it’s been said in the past it suddenly became their refrain without warning or welcome: "What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger." And as much as they never imagined they’d utter such a phrase in the context that which they now do, those words used in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shootings take on an entirely new meaning. The Pulse nightclub shootings wasn’t just an attack on the gay community, but also an attack on those similar safe spaces gay clubs offer no matter the city, country or continent on which they stand. The Sanctity of Gay Clubs takes an intimate look into what some of these establishments mean to its patrons, and how each person, despite the horrific events in Orlando, still feels free to be themselves. Just as summer began to kick-off in early June, a 29-year-old security guard shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Not only was it the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter and the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001, it also marked the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in United States history. Most poignantly is that the killings took place in what the queer community has always considered a “safe space" — the gay establishment — those bars, clubs and resorts found in large cities and small towns alike where, up until that day in June, no one ever had to think twice about their safety. The Pulse nightclub shootings wasn’t just an attack on the gay community, but also an attack on the safe space it offered. The hotel and its Paradise nightclub have offered the LGBTQ community sanctuary for nearly three decades. In 1998 Shep Pettibone, a widely-respected club DJ and prolific record producer whose writing and producing credits include tracks for Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Taylor Dane and Labelle, purchased and renovated the one-time luxury resort that in its heyday drew thousands. Notably the East Coat’s largest gay dance club, Paradise and the Empress welcome members of the gay and straight community alike and are open year round, allowing a venue for all patrons to freely and safely be who they are. Spanning the spectrum of age, race, gender and creed, patrons harmoniously assimilate within the confines of these walls to find a collective refuge from the judgment experienced on the outside. Some of those photographed have been to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and draw similarities between the two venues, especially when noting the location of the restrooms to that of the dance floor. As they carelessly groove into the weekend there’s someone amid this crowd who now feels compelled to give a visual sweep every so often. Another person in the mix takes note of the exit doors, while attentive bartenders keep watch over their customers like a shepherd to a flock. As the crowd here goes on with their lives some can’t help but think what they would do if their safe space were to be invaded by a gunman, thus forcing upon them a heightened sense of spatial awareness but not without a newfound feeling of strength and perseverance.