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A Gay Pastor Reflects on the Orlando Massacre

As the enormity of the mass shooting in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub sinks in, it’s hard to describe how I feel.  No feelings of anger or fear – just a sort of overall numbness which has rendered me lethargic and relatively ineffective for most of the week.

Part of me has got to say that I am disappointed that this sort of misunderstanding and hatred still exists.  It was not until my early 40’s that homosexuality was decriminalised in Victoria – and eventually the rest of Australia.  Fortunately I was never “convicted” because of my sexuality, but a lot of guys around my age are currently having to take legal action to have their criminal records expunged as recently the Victorian Government has passed legislation allowing their historical criminal records for immoral acts to be “cleared” – but they need to apply individually to have this done as most of these convictions took place in the pre-digital era.  However they are delighted to be able to do so as some of them say I will now not die as a “criminal”!  Over the years they have continued to be discriminated against – especially in the areas of employment and when applying for Visas to travel overseas, as they had to answer “yes” to the question “Have you any criminal convictions?”

Decriminalisation Timeline

One of the things that still distresses me is the role that religion – including some elements of Christianity – has played (and in some cases is still a leading force) in fuelling gay hatred and intolerance.   Failed “gay conversion/gay aversion/gay change” therapy has often been a strong negative force.

On Sunday, June 24, the final day of Pride Weekend in1973, 34 members of the Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans were killed in an arson attack in a club/hotel.  MCC held services inside the club, located on the second floor of a three-story building. After the worship service, the club routinely hosted free beer and dinner for 125 patrons. At the time of the evening fire, some 60 people were listening to pianist David Gary perform and were discussing an upcoming MCC fundraiser for the local Crippled Children’s Hospital.  34 died including the Pastor and the Associate Pastor.

The official investigation failed to yield any convictions. The only suspect for the attack was Rodger Nunez, a local hustler and troublemaker who had been ejected from the bar earlier in the evening after fighting with another customer.  Nunez was a gay man who had tried “aversion therapy” and  had visited numerous psychiatric clinics. He had been released from a treatment facility in the year before the fire.   After his arrest, Nunez escaped from psychiatric custody and was never picked up again by police. A friend later told investigators that Nunez confessed on at least four occasions to starting the fire. He told the friend that he squirted the bottom steps with lighter fluid bought at a local Walgreens and tossed a match. Nunez took his own life in November 1974.

There seems to be fairly strong evidence that the assassin in the recent Orlando attack was full of self loathing and unable to come to grips with his true sexual identity! Obviously his faith community would not allow him to be what he probably was – so, being “repressed” he apparently took an anti-social approach.

In the US several MCC church buildings were “torched” in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

I did not go to the rally at Federation Square or the service at St Paul’s on Thursday evening.  However, I did organise an Australasian  MCC clergy Skype conference call the next day. I was glad I was able to hear the recording of the address to those gathered at Federation Square by Imam Nur Warsame, a good friend of our congregation at SYCBaps. It was a truly impressive testimony and speech.

In spite of what I have said above we are making process – but the two steps forward, one step back routine – is exhausting!

I am forever thankful to God for the intellectual and emotional strength that I have been given – and the support and understanding of so many good people – to embark on and continue this journey.


John Fowler
Retired pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)
now regularly attending SYCBaps



  1. Good to read and reflect on your thoughts John and especially to hear the address of Imam Nur Warsame – thankyou for the link.
    Little progress is still some progress but I am sorry we are taking as long as we are.

  2. Thank you John for sharing your thoughts. Hatred whatever form it takes & expressed in violence hurts everyone. We can only combat hatred with love & compassion.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, John. I was a bit slow in catching on to how personally many GLBT people were experiencing the impact of the massacre. Not being part of the tribe, I firstly experienced it only as yet another horrible mass shooting in distant USA, but over the following week, I gradually came to understand how for many of you, it feels like being personally targeted. The historical perspective you have given helps me grasp that much more clearly. Thank you.

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