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LGBT community 'terrified' but defiant after Orlando, local threat

Los Angeles LGBT community "terrified" but resolute. Possible attack at L.A.'s Pride event meant extra security, frayed nerves.

Possible attack at L.A.'s Pride event meant extra security, extra resolution

One of many messages in solidarity with the Orlando victims (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

With the music and the costumes, the thongs and the flags, the L.A. Pride Parade looks like the happiest place on the planet. But as he hands out goodies to the crowd, Trey Baldwin says it's hard to smile and wave when you just heard about what happened in Florida, and what could have happened in L.A.

"It doesn't feel the same and I feel weird being here, honestly," Baldwin says as he walks. "It's kind of scary."

Scary, because Santa Monica police may have prevented a mass attack they say was unrelated to the mass shooting  in Orlando, Fla., in which 50 people were killed and dozens more injured at a gay nightclub.

Early Sunday morning, several kilometres from the L.A. Pride Parade route, Santa Monica police received a call about a suspected prowler. When they searched his car, they found guns, ammo, and possible explosives. 

Police say the suspect, James Wesley Howell of Indiana, was heading to a Gay Pride event. They said his motives were unclear, and that there appeared to be no connection with the Orlando shootings. 
This year's L.A. Pride Parade saw extra security because of the Orlando shootings and the local threat (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Before the first float rolled down Santa Monica Boulevard, extra uniformed and plain-clothes police were called in, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the crowd.

"I want everybody here today to know we are safe, we are protected," Garcetti said. He thanked Santa Monica police and the citizen who called in the threat, and then asked for a moment of silence to remember those killed in Orlando.
Alejandro Contreras, who just returned from South Beach, says he wore this shirt to connect with the shooting victims in Florida (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Once the parade started snaking down the boulevard, there was little visible pall over the performers or the enthusiastic crowd, but the attack was never far from their minds.

Alejandro Contreras just came back from clubbing in Florida. He wore a T-shirt with "Miami" written in big bold letters as a way to connect with the victims.

"It's just sad, but my heart and prayers out to everybody in Orlando," Contreras says.
Many who marched made home-made signs to support the victims (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Across the U.S., LGBT communities gathered to mourn. And many are worried this won't be the last attack.

The gay rights landmark Stonewall Gay Inn, and the popular Hollywood gay nightclub Abbey have added extra security. In Canada, the executive director of Pride Toronto says he's already thinking of better ways to protect this summer's crowd.

"Tomorrow morning we're meeting with police, we're meeting with the RCMP," says Mathieu Chantelois, "and we're going to look again at our plan and see how we can make it more solid."

Still, many in the LGBT community feel they've always faced the threat of violence. For Los Angeles resident Jamie Phillips, who brought his daughter to the Pride parade, Orlando changes nothing.

"Terrorism shouldn't affect you," Phillips says. "If you change your life then they win."

Russ Knight, who brought his two sons to march with him, agrees.

"All the more reason to be here," Knight says. "I'm not going to teach my kids to be afraid."
Actor Jim Rash, left, says the best thing to do is to make the voice of love "louder than the voice of hate." (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Actor Jim Rash, best known for his role as Dean Pelton on the sitcom Community, is a regular supporter of L.A.'s Pride parade. He says this year it was even more important for all communities — not just those who are LGBT — to rally together.

"I think the best thing we can do is to communicate and try to make the voice of love and support and acceptance louder than the voice of hate," Rash says.

Aubrey Sassoon leads a float of students from her school down the boulevard, chanting "U-C-L-A!"

Her campus is still recovering after a deadly shooting there less than two weeks ago. And now this.
Aubrey Sassoon just graduated from UCLA, a campus still recovering from a deadly shooting less than two weeks ago. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Sasson says in the wake of Orlando and the possible L.A. attack, she's "terrified."

But that's what makes parades like this one even more important.

"We can't just always continually be in hiding," Sassoon said. "We have to say we are here, we are present, we are beautiful, we are wonderful, we are strong, we are powerful."

Billie Proffit agrees. She says she's not going to let the threat of violence stop her from living life, and loving whom she wants.
Billie Proffit says 'Bring it on!' she's not going to change her life because of the threats. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"And the best place to be is out here right now being in support of what we do want instead of being scared of what we don't want," Proffit says "I was out all night last night, I will be out all night tonight. Bring it on!"

A float goes by bearing a truckload of half-naked dancers. One of them holds up a hand-written a sign saying "Stand With Orlando."

The spirit here, in one word: defiant. 

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.