Transgender community reflects on impacts of Las Vegas bar shooting

Wed, Mar 7, 2018 (2 a.m.)

A man approached Las Vegas Lounge, home to the Las Vegas transgender community, in the early hours of the morning two weeks ago and fired several bullets into the bar’s west-facing windows. One of those bullets shattered Callie Lou-Bee Haywood’s leg and she was rushed to the hospital.

The shooting is significant because transgender people, especially women of color, face much higher rates of physical and sexual violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign. It reports that more trans people were killed in 2017 than any year this past decade, and LGBT bars also have a long history of being targets of deadly attacks.

Las Vegas Lounge, located in the central valley on Karen Avenue, has been in business for 19 years, proudly displaying the trans flag in its windows. No other events of this magnitude are known to have occurred there, but because trans and gay people have a history of being victimized in the very places these communities have carved out for themselves to feel safe, the local community was shaken.

“Your initial reaction is, ‘They were targeting us.’ Why else?” said Jennifer Hallie, the Las Vegas Lounge general manager, who was home asleep when the shooting occurred but arrived shortly after. “We’re the only business that’s open this time of night. Everyone knows who we are — we have a giant trans pride flag on the front. So, it’s hard to not think that. We’re one small little bar for one class of people, so how do you not call that a hate crime when you know that’s who’s here?”

In 1973, the UpStairs lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, was set ablaze, killing 32 people. In 1980, a man opened fire outside the Ramrod, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, N.Y., killing two people and injuring eight. In 1999, a neo-Nazi planted a bomb that killed two people and injured 81 inside London gay bar, Admiral Duncan.

In 2016, a shooter killed 50 people inside the Pulse nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando, which, at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Metro Police on Feb. 28 released a statement saying that detectives had not identified the suspect or motive and that the investigation is ongoing. The local and national trans communities voiced their displeasure in the first week after the incident because of what they said was a lack of media coverage.

“If this had happened at a Wynn nightclub or some other place on the Strip, there would’ve been a big to-do,” said Jane Heenan, the Gender Justice Nevada founder. “The response would’ve been far different [and] we’re shaken by that. But again, it wakes us up and connects us and reminds us of how alien we are in this culture, how excluded we are day to day.”

That is why places like Las Vegas Lounge have been so integral to the transgender community here in Las Vegas, says former Las Vegas Lounge bartender Lisa St. Laurent. “It’s a vital part of our community,” St. Laurent said. “It’s a safe haven for people.”

And while Las Vegas has historically been a safe place for trans-identifying people — there are no recorded trans deaths in Las Vegas — Hallie says the attack has served not only as a reminder, but a rallying call, too.

“We’re comfortable here, so we’ve become complacent. We need to be aware of our surroundings and keep a look around — it puts you on guard at all times,” Hallie said, adding that the support from customers has been overwhelming. “They’re angry. This is their home, and they’re saying they’re not going to be run out of their home.”

After the shooting, Hallie met with the bar owners to discuss whether the lounge should stay open, but said the decision was unanimous.

“You’ve got to get back on the horse or you never will,” she said. “This is our spot. Love it or hate it, this is it. We’re pretty welcoming to everybody and that’s what we want, too.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to raise money for Haywood, who was the only person injured at the bar that morning. While Haywood didn’t face life-threatening injuries, her road to recovery will be long.

“This isn’t just for her medical bills, it’s for her living expenses, too,” Hallie says, adding that Haywood expects to be in a rehabilitation center for physical therapy for the next two months. “I’m so happy to see the support, to see that people aren’t scared and that they’re not going to be made to fear.”

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