BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In the days after the Orlando shooting, shooting survivors and those inside the club continue talking about how it was like a sanctuary for them. LGBTQ members here are echoing the same thoughts about Buffalo gay bars and clubs.
“Those bars are a safe place for us to be,” said Marvin Henchbarger, the Executive Director at Gay and Lesbian Youth Services, who adds gay bars and clubs offer LGBTQ community members a place where they can be themselves safe of society’s judgments.
“In those places, you shouldn’t have to worry about somebody coming up to you if you’re dancing, maybe slow dancing, with someone of the same sex,” starts Henchbarger.
According to a study completed by the National Coalition for Anti-Violence, between 25% and 33% of LGBTQ community members report being victims of violence. And Henchberger says the incidents for LGBTQ youth are higher for acts of violence, mental illnesses and bullying.
“Young people who are lgbtq as well as their friends are absolutely at risk of violence. So many young people who might know they’re LGBTQ aren’t, maybe, comfortable with themselves yet,” said Henchbarger. “Because of the haters out there smelling fear, if you’re afraid and somebody knows that, it makes you an easy target.”
The executive director came out when she was 40, began dating her partner in 1999 and they married in Connecticut in 2010, before it was legal across the country.
“My partner and I are very out,” quips Henchbarger.
She says there are still some days when people and their comments make her feel uncomfortable.
“My biggest discomfort, to be honest, comes with bathrooms because I do look masculine,” said Henchbarger who says she struggled for years to identify herself as lesbian. “As much as I am comfortable with who I am, sometimes people say things in bathrooms that are off-putting and can be hurtful.”
Buffalo currently ranks as the most homophobic city in the country, according to Adobo. Henchbarger says, despite that ranking, she feels the city is safer and has made progress.
“Generally people are more accepting but it depends on where you are,” said Henchbarger.
The executive director says she doesn’t expect stereotypes to disappear overnight but it does take effort from LGBTQ members and their allies to eradicate violence and hatred toward LGBTQ members.
“You can pass legislation but that doesn’t change hearts and minds. That takes work.”