Retrospect: “For me it was Sunday…”

Local LGBT club manager reflects on Florida club shooting nearly four months later

It’s Friday night at HEAT bar and night club, a LGBT establishment in Wilkes-Barre.

The music plays softly in the background, while a smattering of people sit around the bar.

The club has only been open for an hour and it seems like a slow night so far. The club lights flicker in the distance as the DJ sets up, getting ready for the night. The bartender idly chats with a patron while a member of security sits talking with one of the regulars.

The bar back darts around making sure the bartenders are stocked for the night.

It has been several months after the tragic events at Pulse Night Club in Tampa Florida, which was the site of the worst mass shooting by a single shooter the United States has seen to date.

But looking around this bar, it seems as if people feel secure in their surroundings.

The general manager of HEAT, ShawnEbert, moves from the club to the bar making sure everything is ready, meeting with the other performers who will be there tonight, greeting guests and making sure everyone is comfortable. For Ebert, the last thing he wants is for anyone to think that something bad could happen.

He motions to come to the back to talk while he begins transforming into his drag persona. Ebert contemplates his choice of wig as he recalls the week following the tragedy.

“We actually had more people come out in a display of solidarity” he says as he grabs a crimson red clown wig off a shelf. “It felt like business as usual, it had to be.

“I was woken up (the morning of the shooting) by news outlets asking for quotes about the attack,” he recalled as he began putting the wig on.

“For me it was Sunday, and I had a job to do. I am not going to put my patrons at risk just so people can sell news.”

Clubs like HEAT are historically a refuge for members of the gay community, a place they can go to feel safe and welcome and of course to meet new people. Even if there is only so much that an establishment can do to keep its patrons safe, it is important to give off the feeling of confidence and security.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen” Ebert said regarding potential threats like Pulse as he applied his makeup in the mirror. “Worrying about it and hiding out of fear is just wasting your life”.

Chris Emanski, assistant manager at HEAT, encourages people to come out in spite of potential attacks like these.

“Don’t be afraid to be who you are,” he said. “There will always be someone out there who does not agree with your choices/ lifestyle/ religion”.

While events like the Pulse shooting might encourage people to go out in a show of support, numbers are still down across the board over the years. According to the National Club Industry Association of America (NCIAA), club attendance has gone down by 46 percent since 2014.

There is no clear reason for the decline, though some say it is because non-LBGT clubs have become more accepting and inclusive.

ShawnEbert is no longer in the room; instead, in full blown creepy clown makeup, Estella Sweet smiles.

“Want a balloon?” she asked, holding up a creepy doll prop.

The establishment has become more crowded, at least a dozen more people have shown up. There is a short line at the service bar —  people wait for drinks and wait to lower their inhibitions after a long week at the office.

These people will not let fear get the better of them, and Estella Sweet will always welcome them with a song and a dance.