In many ways, 2022 has been an alarming time to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Across the globe, the community has been in the crosshairs of “lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This includes the horrific attack at Club Q in Colorado Springs just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and less violent, but still highly concerning events, right here in Michigan, like an anti-LGBTQ+ rally held in Dearborn in September.
DHS issued a National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin Nov. 30 focused on not only the LGBTQ+ community but other groups currently targeted by extremists. “Our homeland continues to face a heightened threat environment — as we have seen, tragically, in recent acts of targeted violence — and is driven by violent extremists seeking to further a political or social goal or act on a grievance,” said Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas in the bulletin.
“In the coming months, DHS expects the threat environment to remain heightened and threat actors could exploit several upcoming events to justify or commit acts of violence. These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin continues.
DHS pointed to several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence originating from both domestic and foreigh terrorist organizations who are driven by “reactions to current events and adherence to violent extremist ideologies.” Some of these extremists, DHS warned, have conducted attacks inspired by previous attacks.
Heightened awareness, proactive safety measures
In light of recent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, Detroit Police Corporal Dani Woods, the department’s LGBTQ Liaison, recommends a proactive approach by clubs, bars and other business owners, including “active shooter” training. Woods said she wants spaces to be as prepared as possible in case of a shooting event.
“Also, I always advise that when someone is out on their own attending a function or meeting up with someone, please let a friend or someone know where you are and/or who you’re meeting with,” she said. “It is devastating the amount of notifications I receive regarding incidents, and no one knew where their friend or loved one had gone, or with who.”
Woods said it’s also a good idea to take self-defense classes or situational awareness training. Obtaining a gun through the proper channels is another option Woods mentioned. “I know a lot of people are not a fan or believe in legally obtaining a gun, but that is also a way to responsibly and legally protect themselves or others,” she said.
Woods says patrons of local venues can use their voices to let the owners of those spaces know that their safety needs to be a priority if venues want to keep their business. “Inquire about what safety plans are in place and what type of security they have,” she recommended. Businesses can also consider using one of the police department’s safety programs, like Project Green Light and Secondary Employment. Another option is requesting “Special Attention” from the police department during peak hours and dismissal times.
“The thing is, it’s both scary and sad that we have to do all of this because of the hate someone else has in their hearts for people who have nothing to do with them, who are living their lives and attempting to enjoy life just the same as others,” she said. “These measures we have to consider because of our safety and this current climate in human behavior. But it’s also worth it because our lives depend on it.”
Though Pride Source inquired about the DHS alert and the Whitmer administration’s response, officials there did not respond with specific details at the time of this article’s publication.
Communications Director Bobby Leddy did respond with the following: “LGBTQ+ Michiganders are an essential part of Michigan and make our state a better place. From day one, Gov. Whitmer has fought for policies that pursue equity for Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community, including action to prohibit conversion therapy and strengthen protections in state employment as well as calling on the legislature to expand the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Gov. Whitmer will continue to fight to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and valued.”
Pride Source has sent a followup request for information related to how the state is responding to the DHS alert.
Gary Baglio, owner of Five15 and Pronto! in Royal Oak, said he’s had to implement significant changes in the wake of recent violence and the DHS alert.
“In Five15’s 15-year history, these things have always existed,” he said. “But now, with such a divided population, poisonous social media and public officials and leaders that disseminate conspiracy theories and misinformation, it seems that hate has spread in the public forum and acts of violence are no longer performed in the shadows. It makes me sad that our shows, which continue to bring so much joy and laughter, must [increase security in response] to such needless bigotry and hate.”
Baglio said his staff has always been trained to be prepared for emergency situations and that security has always been a priority inside the venue. Since the DHS warning and the Club Q attack, security issues have become more involved (and more expensive). “We have been required by national entertainers we contract with to provide security checks for weapons and guns upon entry to our venue, adding additional cost in an already inflationary time,” he said.
As a small business owner, Baglio said additional costs related to security make it more difficult for the venue to provide quality entertainment at a reasonable cost, though he is confident Five15 and Pronto! will “weather the inflation storm.” His bigger fear is how patrons will absorb the impact of increased security measures.
“What I fear is more permanent, as folks come here to escape the pains of their lives, whether it be cancer treatments, the death of a loved one, a recent breakup or just to have fun and laugh,” he said. “They are greeted upon entry by a weapons check and pat down. It is a blunt reminder of the hard realities we’ve been forced to succumb to and sadly tolerate.”