Andrew Dys

‘Sickening’: York County gays react to mass shooting at Orlando nightclub

The Lamonica family at home in Rock Hill on Monday evening. A gay pride flag waves above them. Left, Eric Lamonica, holding son Jasper. Right, Jerry Lamonica, with daughter Ellie in front.
The Lamonica family at home in Rock Hill on Monday evening. A gay pride flag waves above them. Left, Eric Lamonica, holding son Jasper. Right, Jerry Lamonica, with daughter Ellie in front. Provided photo

In America, again, guns plus hate has equaled death. This time the target of hate and bullets was not blacks, hated for their skin, but gay people.

Hated for their love.

People in York County’s LGBT community – a misnomer, really, because gay people are people like everyone else and their community is our community – are shocked and sickened by the rampage of an apparent homophobic radical Muslim who shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday. The death toll at the hands of what appears to be an ISIS sympathizing, American-born, follower of Islam is at 50 and expected to rise, making it the worst mass shooting in American history. More than 50 more were wounded.

“The goal of this terrible act was to kill, and to scare people, to terrify,” said Jerry Lamonica, a longtime Rock Hill resident who lives with his husband and two children in Rock Hill. “It is horrible. You do not have to be gay to be shocked, disgusted, by this violence and killings.”

The reaction in phone calls, personal visits and especially social media among gay people has been vast and huge, Lamonica said.

“Globally, people are just appalled by what one person with hate in his heart could do,” Lamonica said.

In Lamonica’s Rock Hill neighbrhood, in June which is Pride month for the LGBT community, a gay pride flag flies at his home. Several neighbors came by to see Lamonica and his husband, Eric, on Sunday to check on them and their kids, and express similar outrage over mass killing over hate.

“We are who we are, and the vast majority of people respect us,” Lamonica said.

It is the few, the hateful, the violent, with guns, however, that Sunday’s killings showed are not tolerant of gay people.

“We worry about a copycat mentality, that someone who has enough hate in their heart would do something similar,” Lamonica said.

Fort Mill’s Jennifer McNeil, who has been in a same-sex relationship for almost 25 years and got married in late 2014 when it became legal in South Carolina, said there is far too much hate still in the world. The killings were “the most awful thing that could happen,” no matter who the victims were, McNeil said.

“Just when it seems like we take a step forward, and that all of us in America are closer to be treated as equals, something like this happens,” McNeil said. “It’s like a punch right in the gut.”

In Clover, Jim Strickland and Mike Goforth live together. Theirs was the first gay marriage in York County. Strickland called the shootings “sickening and hateful to the worst degree we have ever seen in America.”

“Hate is wrong, hating anyone for who they love, what color skin they have, their religion, is wrong,” Strickland said. “We watched the news all day Sunday and it was just heartbreaking to watch it. So many lives lost, ruined. For what? Because that person hated gays.”

The concern for people such as Lamonica and Strickland, who are both parents – Strickland is a grandfather, even – is that what for years has been political talk against gay people, social and religious talk against gay people, has now turned into a violence against gay people.

A bigot on the radio or TV bashing gay people is one thing – gay people are used to the noise. A homophobic monster shooting more than 100 people is something else.

Strickland, a floral designer, even created a badge to wear in support of the Orlando victims. It is red, white and blue, and the rainbow colors that are emblems of gay pride.

“We are all Americans – every one of us,” Strickland said. “All Americans should be outraged by hate and violence against any group. It is one thing to see people look at me and my husband and get the look of disdain but it is another thing when someone would carry out mass murder and terrorism because of their hate.”

Yet the community of gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders, people no different than anyone else with jobs and loves, has to now wonder if the hate has ratcheted up so far that the sideways looks they get at the grocery store or while using the toilet could turn violent.

Lamonica, a husband and father, said that he hopes the worst killing spree by a gunman in American history gives pause to anyone who before disliked or even despised gay people.

“This is what hate does,” Lamonica said. “Hate kills.”