ORLANDO -- When Patty Sheehan was first elected to the Orlando City Commission in 2000, she became the first out elected official in the state of Florida. Today, the most violent shooting in national history took place in a gay nightclub in her district.
But Sheehan has no doubts her community -- both Orlando and the LGBT community -- will endure.
"We've been victims of violence for hundreds of years. We'll come through this. They will not strike fear in our hearts. We are a loving people, and we've been through a lot worse," Sheehan told The Advocate. "I watched half my friends die between the age of 20 and 30 because of AIDS. They think they are going to strike to our hearts? They know nothing about love or loss. That's why they are pathetic murderers. They have nothing to offer this world."
Like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Sheehan isn't waiting for a firm statement from the FBI to acknowledge this as an attack on LGBT America.
"I'm sorry, my feelings are definitely that it was," she said. "It was meant to strike at the diversity in our community because it was Latin night. It was picked on purpose. But this community is a loving community. Right now, there are grief counselors at the Gay Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Center right now to help friends."
Sheehan describes the Pulse, the sight of the shooting, as a "wonderful club." "It's owned by friends of mine, who are great people. It's a very nice club. It is very diverse group who goes there, and it's like a community gathering place for the young people. I don't think it was a coincidence this club was targeted, and I don't know what's going to happen, but we will work with the owners. It's a terrible thing to have something like that happen at your place of business, but it's certainly not their fault."
She also said the club had proper security. An off-duty police officer was hired by the club to man the entrance. Sheehan said when a larger police response arrived, they came through a wall in their attempt to intervene. "Had that officer not been there, those casualties would have been a lot higher," Sheehan said. "And that officer was heroic in trying to get people out of the building and protecting people, but you have got. They carry a firearm with them, a glock, bang bang. This guy has got an assault rifle."
Sheehan was not one to skirt the issue of gun rights. "I have a firearm. If you need a firearm for protection and you believe in the Second Amendment, that's fine," she said. "But assault rifles are not necessary in this city and this community. They are designed to kill as many people as possible in the least amount of time. We wouldn't even have our officers carry them except for swat because they are just killing machines. They are not for protection. You can defend yourself with a proper firearm. You do not need an assault rifle. If this person did not have an assault rifle, the number of casualties would have gone down significantly. That just makes me mad, the second amendment bullshit."
But violence will never strike at the heart of a community that wants to live openly without fear. "We've been victimized and discriminated against and beaten for many, many years," she said. "We know how to come back from something horrible like this when it happens."