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Orlando Magazine Editor Reacts To Shooting At Gay Nightclub

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Orlando's LGBT community is still absorbing the news of each person who was killed or wounded early Sunday morning, figuring out ways to support each other. One person coming to terms with it is Billy Manes. He's editor of Orlando's LGBT publication Watermark. He talked to our colleague Ari Shapiro just a short walk from Pulse Nightclub.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: If I had asked you a week ago to describe the state of LGBT life in Orlando, what would you have said?

BILLY MANES: I think we would be elated about how things were moving forward in this. city. We've been on the front end of all of the movements - the domestic partnership, the employee rights. We've been a very strong community. So this coming as it did was incredibly shocking. And you know, not knowing exactly what went down, I - you know, I'm infuriated by it because it seems to be a break in our stride, you know (laughter)?

SHAPIRO: A break in our stride is a good way of putting it.

MANES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: How big a break is it?

MANES: I don't know that it's a big enough break to register in any long-term way, but it's a tragic break in the sense that we are really concerned that this is the largest gun massacre in history or whatever we're hearing at this point. And it happened two blocks from my house, and 50 people are dead. I mean, it's very disturbing, and it's a lot of people. And it's a lot of people who had hopes and dreams, a lot of people who might have been out for - I was looking at their ages - I mean, who might've been out for their first night at a gay bar, you know?

SHAPIRO: Because these were people who were 21 years old.

MANES: Right. And it's pride month. That's the part that hurts me the most. I'm a 44-year-old man. Seeing, you know, what I consider to be children have to face this is - it's very disconcerting. And I want to do anything I can to help them.

SHAPIRO: Did you know anybody who was in Pulse?

MANES: No, I've finally figured out that everyone I knew was not in...

SHAPIRO: You say finally figured out.

MANES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: It took a while.

MANES: It took a while - doesn't make it any better that a bunch of 20-year-olds are dead, though. So I think - you know, I think our community is going to have a lot of healing to do at this point.

SHAPIRO: I'm sure there are people all over the country feeling like they want to do something. They want to make a gesture. They want to help in some way. Is there something you would tell those people?

MANES: Well, what we've seen are thousands of people in line to give blood to save the lives of these people.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MANES: So I don't know that there's a charity set up yet. I know that they're discouraging vigils right now because we're afraid that maybe somebody might come out and do something again.

SHAPIRO: How does that make you feel?

MANES: Terrified. I mean, as a public figure, it makes me feel absolutely terrified. And even being here and being on, you know, national networks and whatever, it puts me in the spotlight then, and then I am Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard," you know? But...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Oh, my God.

MANES: I know. I'm not trying to make light of it, but I mean, that's the first thought that came to my mind - yeah.

SHAPIRO: When's the last time you felt fear like that? Have you ever felt that in your life before?

MANES: Yes. I was shot by BB guns when I was a 20-something going to gay bars.

SHAPIRO: Out of homophobia?

MANES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Really.

MANES: The whole - I don't want to say the F-word, but yeah, it was said. And I was shot from a truck.

SHAPIRO: They called you homophobic names and shot you...

MANES: Yes, yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...With a BB gun.

MANES: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And now 20-some years later...

MANES: Right.

SHAPIRO: You're afraid again.

MANES: I'm afraid again - yeah. I mean, the neighbor across the street from me has a Confederate flag on his truck, so I don't even know who people are anymore (laughter), frankly. I mean, I just don't. I mean, I just don't.

I mean, I - when I see something like what happened at Pulse - and we haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet. But when I see something like that, I know that there is a nagging problem in our cultural being, our sociocultural being that needs to be addressed. And I don't know how to address it. I don't think anger is the way. I think that we have to tell people about people's lives. I mean, we'll do the hearts and minds things again.

SHAPIRO: Tell your own story.

MANES: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it is - it's terrifying. I mean, this literally is two blocks from my house. I mean, it happened. And my parents had to call me and ask me if I was alive. Like, that's just the strangest call the get, you know - terrifying.

SHAPIRO: Well, Billy Manes, thank you for speaking with us. I'm sorry it has to be on such an occasion, but I appreciate your time.

MANES: I hope to speak to you again sometime. Thank you.

MCEVERS: That was Billy Manes, editor of Watermark, the LGBT publication in Orlando talking to our colleague Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.