ASBURY PARK – For the first time since the QSpot was established in 2005, co-founder MaryAnn Vitiello said she felt a sense of fear this week coming to the LGBTQ community center on Asbury Avenue.
“I came here yesterday for my weekly meeting and I felt uncomfortable, I felt afraid,” Vitiello told a crowd who had gathered at the center Monday night for a candlelight vigil to honor the five people who were killed and more than a dozen were injured when a gunman opened fire at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo. this past weekend.
Not lost on Vitiello was the similar use of the letter Q (which stands for queer or questioning) in the names of both establishments, thousands of miles apart.
“I thought of that Q,” Vitiello said, gesturing to the center’s sign outside.
QSpot Executive Director John Mikytuck said it was with a heavy heart that members of the LGBTQ community were once again drawn together in fear and grief over an attack on their own.
“Our prayers go out to those who were injured in the shooting and are now fighting for their lives,” Mikytuck said. “We stand united in our call for an end to these senseless acts of violence and hate against our community. Just six years ago, we gathered in solidarity to remember those lost during the Pulse nightclub shooting.”
Mikytuck said QSpot was now calling on federal, state and local authorities to fully fund the cost of securing its facility in Asbury Park with equipment and personnel.
“Over 250 people each week come to QSpot Center for vital support services and social engagement,” he said. “We must do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of each person who walks through our doors.”
Specifically, Mikytuck said he was calling on the leaders of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the state Attorney General’s Office to provide funding under the New Jersey Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
QSpot had applied for the grant funding from the program in late October, but he said that “a decision has not yet been made on our application. The grant funding could provide up to $20,000 to offset the cost of guards and up to $50,000 for the purchase and installation of security equipment.
“In addition to the funding we applied for — to purchase equipment such as cameras, door locks, windows, fencing — QSpot is now seeking support for onsite personnel to help keep our facilities safe; staff to help monitor the comings and goings of our guests and visitors,” Mikytuck said.
Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, told the crowd that the tragedy in Colorado came as no surprise.
“This is what happens when violent rhetoric and anti-LGBTQ legislation are relentlessly directed at our community,” Renna said.
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Renna insisted that stricter gun laws were also needed: “Make no mistake, you can draw a direct line in the increased and unchecked access to firearms, and a rise in violent propaganda.”
Political criticism of the LGBTQ community had created a “permissible climate of hate in this country,” Renna said.
“As a queer activist for over 30 years, I am am sick and tired of this cycle,” Renna said. “It has accelerated in the past several years as we’ve all seen, and it threatens the progress that we have made and worked so hard for.”
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Renna said federal non-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ people in the workplace — “and gun reform, real gun reform” — were all necessary in the future.
“Just this year, hundreds of pieces of legislation were introduced and passed targeting LGBTQ people in particular — our trans youth,” Renna said. “Our elected officials in too many states have passed policies trying to erase our community in libraries and in schools.”
An emotional Asbury Park Councilwoman Yvonne Clayton said she felt rage and disbelief when she learned the news of the attack in Colorado.
“This is the time to mourn and then tomorrow we fight,” Clayton said.
Jan Moore, 86, whose half-a-century romance with her wife Emily Sonnessa was the subject of the 2016 documentary film, “Love Wins,” said after the vigil that the events in Colorado came as no surprise to her. The couple lived in the closet for 45 years but raised a family together. Their story made them into one of the public faces of the marriage equality movement in New Jersey.
“With the political climate the way it is today? Absolutely not,” Moore explained. “My biggest problem with the whole thing is people hide under the guise of religion and they do nothing but create war on their fellow man.”
An HIV nurse since the early 1980s, Vitiello said the fear she felt over the weekend had now turned to anger.
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“I’m used to fighting,” Vitiello said. “That’s just what I do. … Prayers and thoughts, they are lovely and they are heartfelt, and they’re meaningful and they’re necessary. But I’m over that now. We need to fight back. We need to call our legislators again and again and again — and write. We have to do everything we can because we can’t be afraid. We’ve been hidden for decades and centuries. And it took us so long to get this building; the sweat and efforts from so many people. And I’ll be damned if we’re going to be afraid in there, when we sit in there; because it’s our safe place and we worked hard to get it.”
Contact Asbury Park Press reporter Erik Larsen at [email protected]