Nashville, Tenn. – Dozens of members of the LGBTQ community gathered in Nashville Saturday for a private meeting to grieve and heal amid widespread fear since last week’s shooting.
The place was guarded for the safety of the participants, some of whom were afraid to leave their homes and go out in public.
“This week is the worst nightmare. Everything from pain to anger to sadness” Rev. RJ Robles, a transgender community organizer who uses pronouns, told the crowd. “This was also part of the reason why we came together as a community to heal this space this evening.”
They decided to spend Saturday on a trip against the new state law established to carry out some criminal activities. Then the police identified the shooter in the attack on the Union School, where three children and three adults were killed, as transgender.
But there is still confusion and misinformation about how exactly Audrey Hale, 28, is identified and whether Hale’s gender identity had anything to do with the motive behind the murder.
Hours after he said Hale was transgender, Nashville Police Chief John Drake told NBC News’ Lester Holt that police “feel Hale is the same as trans, but we’re still in the initial investigation into that whole thing and if he actually played a role in this.”
Drake did not say why police believed Hale was transgender. As of Thursday afternoon, six people who knew Hale told NBC News that Hale had not directly come out to them as trans or talk about his gender identity. It’s not uncommon, however, for people to come out to certain people in their lives — or not come out at all.
Since the shooting, advocates in the LGBTQ community have said there has been a flood of threats of violence and people are afraid to leave their homes. Organizers postponed the march and some advocates organized a smaller “health evening” for people to meet safely.
They gathered at small tables, arms around each other, and ate dinner together. In the meeting, which was not public, but which a reporter from NBC News was invited to attend, some people took comfort in musical and poetic readings, others wanted to sit in quiet contemplation, others sat down to talk about everything they felt.
“Nashville is deeply saddened by the loss of these six people, three children and three adults,” said Robles, who was one of the LGBTQ clergy members who helped organize the event. “And even then it was hard to feel like I was hurting behind closed doors to some extent.”
Robles said the angry and violent rhetoric that has come out against transgender people and the broader LGBTQ community since Monday it was “deep, deeply disturbing to me.”
More shooting in Nashville
People are “devastated,” they said. “There’s also a lot of desperation and emotions are a lot high. Folks are emotionally exhausted. Folks’ feelings are physically exhausted.”
Robert Che Espinoza, a transgender activist who helped organize the event and uses it himself, said he received numerous messages from members of the queer and trans community before the march, communicating threats of violence.
“I feared for my life,” said Espinoza, who was supposed to be one of the speakers on the trip.
And they said: “He is disturbed by fury; “We all keep quiet.”
After the trip was postponed, Espinoza said Saturday’s smaller event “is an opportunity to meet, share a meal, listen to some music, listen to some songs, receive some consolation.”
The trip was organized as a response to the law that would attract some shows. First-of-its-kind the law It will condemn “adult cabaret entertainment” in public or where it can be viewed by minors.
“A lot of people in the Nashville community are very upset about pulling the ban because this is people’s livelihood,” said Rev. Dawn Bennett “So that we could celebrate, we could approach our family to draw in solidarity, to provide support.”
“Every element of my world is under attack right now,” said Rebecca Seaver, who is a drag therapist in Tennessee and is non-binary.
Seaver — who goes by the stage name Mx Mona Von Holler and has been active for 14 years — said the law targets other actors, “at the end of the day, all of these people are targeting and generating. queer people and LGBTQ people and that’s the scariest part.”
Seaver said that after Monday’s time he was afraid and “guarded all the time.”
He said all the focus on the identity of the shooter’s race takes away from the broader trend of gun violence and mass shootings in America.
“Our children’s lives are at stake. There are no queens or trans people in danger. They are at risk from guns,” Seaver said.
The law was set to take effect Saturday, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker in Tennessee temporarily delayed it before setting an hour to take effect, citing constitutional protections for free speech.
One of the bill’s leading Republican sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, said when the bill was passed, it “gives parents the confidence that they can take their kids to a public or private viewing and be blinded by sexual performance.”
Under the first law, a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor, and the second is a felony.
Bennett said that while there has always been discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the state, it “got crazier and crazier” last week.
Bennett said members of the church told him they were “physically attacked because of who they are this week.”
“Hospitality is now everywhere. Now fear and terror are pervasive,” he said.
Denise Sadler, who is transgender and has performed as a drag queen for more than 20 years in Nashville, said fellow drag queens told her they were “terrified because they received death threats” after the shooting.
Brere co-runs a weekly drag brunch in the suburbs of Nashville. On Saturday before her show, her friends told her carefully and worried about her.
It was intended to be put on for a show and presented to the crowd, which had armed security in force.
Sadeler said that “people are always feeding hate” and using the gender identity of the shooter to feed anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
“I’m not going to let people’s ignorance scare me from my mission to open their eyes to the world it’s not what people are trying to portray it to be,” he said.