The LGBTQ+ community was rocked Sunday when a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.—leaving 49 dead and 53 injured.
The primary suspect Omar Mateen was killed by police early Sunday morning. Senior Steven Soto, president of Blue Devils United, issued a statement Sunday afternoon on Facebook deploring the violence. Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, did the same in an email to the Duke community.
“As the coming days spur larger conversations about the realities that LGBTQ+ people may face, make sure that these conversations acknowledge how deeply rooted homophobia and transphobia can be in those realities,” Soto wrote. “Do not allow anyone to discount this shooting due to the victims’ LGBTQ+ identities. Do not allow anyone to disregard members of the LGBTQ+ community who are Muslim, because our community is only strengthened by intersectional diversity.”
Moneta called the shooter’s behavior “reflective of his own hate, ignorance and illnesses” and offered the University’s LGBTQ+ community support through the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Counseling and Psychological Services and DukeReach.
Soto also noted that BDU will remain a safe place for those in need, promising that BDU’s doors would remain open.
“In a time of mass violence and captivating fear, we do not have to face injustice alone,” Soto wrote.
The Graduate and Professional Student Council also issued a statement, which can be viewed here, expressing their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Duke Student Government president Tara Bansal, a senior, wrote in an email that she is heavily saddened by the incident and encouraged students to unite around the LGBTQ+ community.
In addition, she noted that she hopes students will question the narratives that will arise in light of the shooting, “regarding gun control, mental health, homophobia, islamophobia and beyond.”
“I hope that Duke students, as empathetic, future leaders, channel their energy to galvanize change for peace,” she wrote.
Soto explained that the shooting was an extreme act of the daily hate faced by many in the LGBTQ+ community and noted that this kind of violence is perpetuated on Duke’s campus in its own way, pointing to the removal of pride flags on campus and homophobic slurs used are examples of this.
“This is a big event, but this hate is also something that people have to struggle with everyday,” he said.
Although it is important to have discussions about gun laws and mental illness, loving and respecting those in the LGBTQ+ community must come first, said Tanner Lockhead, a senior and member of the LGBTQ+ community who is also a columnist for The Chronicle.
Parents of LGBTQ+ students are also affected by such tragedies yet are often overlooked or not immediately spoken to, said Janie Long, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and former CSGD director.
Long added that she hopes the University will reach out to parents and that students will speak with their parents about important issues.
“Parents of LGBTQ+ students react to their children in many different ways, but something that is often true of parents is they are fearful for their children,” Long said. “It can cause parents to be afraid about their child being out about who they are. For parents who struggle with acceptance, it can certainly fuel that struggle.”
She also noted that Muslim students at Duke might be affected by what happened in Orlando and said they should not be neglected in receiving community support.
To honor victims of the shootings, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory ordered that all United States and North Carolina flags at state facilities be lowered through sunset on Thursday. Duke is lowering its flags as well.
Duke has seen threats made against members of the LGBTQ+ community in the past. Last November, Jack Donahue—a freshman at the time—was victim of a homophobic slur written on his dorm’s wall.
"Please take this tragedy as an opportunity to reflect upon our current state and not to expand upon any of the phobias or isms that are rampant in our country and especially world today," Donahue wrote in an email Monday.
Like Donahue, Moneta also encouraged the Duke community to not be passive and to engage with these issues, not just when a tragedy occurs.
Moneta has sent out several emails in the wake of mass shootings over the past semester, but told The Chronicle he was looking to shift focus from just expressing condolences to encourage students to “be more activist.”
“Choose whatever cause you have—open-carry or gun control—and pick whatever side of the issue you want, but be active,” he said. “That’s the message I most want to deliver. We are turning into a society of passive victims it seems to me, and I don’t think we can afford for this to happen.”
Adam Beyer contributed reporting.
Editor's note: This article was updated Monday at 10:00 a.m. to include quotes from Donahue and correct that 49 were killed in the shooting. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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