Gay community ‘was targeted’ in Orlando shooting, NJ LGBT group director says
As thousands gather in Essex County Sunday afternoon for the annual North Jersey Pride festival, officials say they have heightened security in the area in light of the deadly mass shooting at an Orlando gay club early Sunday morning.
An executive director of an LGBT advocacy group in New Jersey also said he believes the gay community in Orlando was "targeted" in the deadly shooting.
The North Jersey Pride Festival takes place at Maplewood's Memorial Park. Last year's festival had over 4,000 attendees. This year's attendance is expected to rival that of previous years, C.J. Prince, executive director of North Jersey Pride, told Tapinto.net.
According to Maplewood Police Sgt. Connie Fields, the police department has additional officers in and around the park for the event.
"We do have additional offices over there," Sgt. Field said. "We have heightened security."
Fields said the Maplewood Police Department doesn't believe there is any threat to the attendees at this time, and said the added security is a precaution in light of the mass shooting in Orlando.
The shooting at Pulse nightclub, which bills itself as Orlando's "premier gay nightclub" left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized. Police say the shooter, Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Fla. entered the club and opened fire at about 2 a.m. He then took hostages. At about 5 a.m., Mateen was shot during a gunfight after a SWAT team entered the club to rescue the hostages. Police are still trying to determine a motive.
Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey-based advocacy and education organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community told NJ 101.5 that he believes the gay community was targeted in the mass shooting.
"The shooter entered a gay club and took the lives of 50 members of our community. I have every reason to believe its was targeted," said Fuscarino, who was attending the North Jersey Pride festival Sunday.
Fuscarino said the fatal shootings were especially heinous since June is Pride month, when LGBT is acknowledged and celebrated.
“It’s a month that we celebrate yearly to recognize our values of love and equality. Our hearts are with those who lost their lives in Orlando," he said.
According to Fuscarino, Garden State Equality will be working with the Department of Homeland Security as well as state and local authorities "to ensure that the LGBT community feels safe and protected."
In addition, Fuscarino said the victims or the Pulse shooting will be remembered during the group's seventh annual Equality Walk on June 18 in Asbury Park.
Equality Florida, another LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement that the violence hits the LGBT community's "sense of safety."
"We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country," Equality Florida said. "Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument."
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.