The City of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department, on the six-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub tragedy, have rolled out a new initiative to identify safe places in the city for LGBTQ citizens who need help.
Businesses who want to participate will have the option of placing a small blue decal sticker, emblazoned with a police shield colored in rainbow and a proclamation of ‘Safe Space,’ on the outside window of their premises.
That way, LGBTQ citizens who have been the victim of a hate crime or who need to call 911 for any other reason will know those businesses are safe places.
Speaking at The Center on Mills Avenue, Mayor Buddy Dyer, District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Police Chief John Mina touted the program as just one piece of the way forward for the city in the wake of the tragedy.
“As a member of the LGBT community, I have to tell you, I never really did feel safe,” Sheehan said. “In public office, I thought my personal safety was going to be compromised. I honestly thought I would be a victim of violence. I’m very grateful I was not. But 49 members of this community were victims of violence, in the worst shooting in American history.
“I saw some of the comments on social media about [the safe spaces], and it was very critical… if you’re not a member of this community, and you don’t know what it’s like to feel unsafe, then don’t criticize us. All we’re asking for is a safe haven and a safe place. There are those who will victimize us for who we are, who will attack us for who we are. Offering us a safe space does not take anything away from anyone.”
Dyer said the initiative was good as another step towards the city’s overall goal of inclusivity and diversity.
“This new initiative will ensure inclusion and safety,” he said. “It offers LGBTQ residents a safe place, and provides them access to safety information through the city. If they are a victim of crime, or a victim of harassment, they will know where they can go.”
Dyer said the idea for the program originated in Seattle, where over 650 businesses signed on. He said they were hoping for similar turnouts in Orlando.
Mina said the initiative was simple – businesses who wanted the decal stickers could just call the OPD and ask for them, and it was for such a good cause that he couldn’t see a reason for a business not to do so.
“It’s an opportunity for business owners to signal to the LGBTQ community ‘It’s OK, come in and call 911,’” he said.
Dyer said the aftermath of the Pulse tragedy and all its complex off-shooting branches, from the survivors to the families of the deceased, would never be over, and that the task now fell to Orlando to move forward on LGBTQ issues.
“Orlando has a new charge,” he said. “We’re a city that has to be a shining light in terms of showing the rest of the world how to embrace diversity and equality.”
Sheehan finished the press conference with an anecdote from this past weekend: the Orlando Gay Chorus was performing at The Plaza Live, and someone left a hateful sign out front, which the OPD responded to and are now investigating.
“It just goes to show you,” she said. “Even at an event where the community was trying to come together, at a positive event, someone thought it was a good idea to put out a hateful sign. We’re not going to put up with that nonsense. There are people feeling empowered to attack the LGBT community. Hate speech leads to hate crime, as far as I’m concerned.”
Then, after the press conference concluded, Dyer, Sheehan and Mina trekked down Mills and put the first decal on the window of local restaurant Tako Cheena, after consulting the manager there.