Mr. Mateen’s father told NBC News that his son had been angry when he saw two men kissing. The East Orlando Post also stated that Mr. Mateen had researched at least one other gay club in Orlando before attacking Pulse.
It was gather that at 3 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, Benjamin Newbern, a gay rights activist in Northern Alabama, arrived home from a gay pride dance party he had organized, glanced at his cell phone and spotted an unsettling social media post: “Prayers for our brothers and sisters at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.”
Mr. Newbern flipped on the television to news, he said, that “just kind of took my breath away.” And instantly, he knew that his life, as an activist and a gay person in America, had changed.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Newbern, 38 — who has spent two years trying to build a gay rights community in his home city, Florence, in part by persuading people that it is safe to come out of the closet — was struggling, as were gay people nationwide, to make sense of the worst mass shooting in American history, committed on a Latin-themed night in a gay nightclub by a Muslim gunman.
What did it mean that it happened in June, Gay Pride Month? Was it a hate crime against gay people or simply evidence that gun violence is out of control — or both? Gay rights have been advancing at a rapid clip. Has that lessened homophobia? Or maybe made it worse? And most of all: Should gay people be afraid?
On Sunday, some muddled answers began to emerge. The police said the gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, an American citizen whose parents were from Afghanistan, had twice been investigated on suspicions of terrorism. As President Obama referred the shooting as an “act of terror and an act of hate,” Mr. Mateen’s father told NBC News that his son had been angry when he saw two men kissing. The East Orlando Post also stated that Mr. Mateen had researched at least one other gay club in Orlando before attacking Pulse.
Almost a year after the Supreme Court as legalized same-sex marriage, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, and those working to advance their rights, spent Sunday grappling with the implications — at gay pride celebrations, in their homes, at candlelight vigils. Particularly awful was that the massacre had transformed what was once seen as a haven for gay people — a gay bar — into a death chamber.
In Los Angeles, the fear took on particular urgency when the police reported that they had arrested a man with weapons and explosives that were headed to the city’s gay pride parade.
In Florence, Ala., where Mr. Newbern lives, he said the attacks had compounded “all that anxiety about being L.G.B.T. in the Deep South.” In Washington, David Thompson, 49, woke up to three lengthy text messages from his 70-year-old mother. She did not want him to attend Sunday’s gay pride festival there.
“It is a horror, a total horror,” said Mary L. Bonauto, the civil rights lawyer who successfully argued last year’s Supreme Court case on the right to same-sex marriage.“I am profoundly sad.”
She was thinking ahead to Saturday, when she will be the grand marshal of the gay pride parade in Portland, Me., her home city.
“On the one hand, how can you not help but feel nervous?” Ms. Bonauto said. But on the other hand, she expressed worry about Islamophobia. “I was thinking, ‘Should I wear a T-shirt that says, ‘Don’t judge the many by the few’ — something to show some solidarity?” she said.
The gay rights movement, of course, is no stranger to the fear of violence. That includes the days when gay people worried about being branded “faggots” and beaten, whether in small towns or in gay centers like New York; the 1973 arson attack on a gay bar in New Orleans that left 32 people dead; the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. All are cultural touchstones for the community.