People gather outside the Dr Phillips Center for Performing Art in Orlando for a vigil for the victims and the injured of Orlando nightclub shooting. (S. Dizayee/VOA)
People gather outside the Dr Phillips Center for Performing Art in Orlando for a vigil for the victims and the injured of Orlando nightclub shooting. (S. Dizayee/VOA)

WHITE HOUSE - In just four short days, U.S. President Barack Obama went from celebrating LGBT Pride Month at a festive White House reception to reaching out in solidarity to members of that community who were targeted in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

After meeting with top security advisers at the White House Monday, the president said it is relevant that the shooting took place at a nightclub frequented by lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

“Well, I think we don't yet know the motivations, but here’s what we do know ... organizations like ISIL or organizations like al-Qaida, or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality,” he said, using an acronym in reference to Islamic State (IS), which is also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh.

The Orlando nightclub selected by gunman Omar Mateen for his early Sunday massacre was not just any gay club. Pulse was founded by Barbara Poma to promote awareness of the area's LGBT community after her brother died of AIDS. It hosted nightly themed performances and monthly educational programs. Saturday night was “Latin night” — most of the 49 victims were Hispanic.

President Obama said that for radical extremist groups, tolerance, diversity and women being empowered is a threat. “So, yes, I’m sure we will find that there are connections — regardless of the particular motivations of this killer — there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians," he added. "And unfortunately, that’s something that the LGBT community is subject to not just by ISIL, but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world.”

President Barack Obama speaks about the massacre a
President Barack Obama speaks about the massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub during a news conference at the White House in Washington, June 12, 2016.

IS executes homosexuals

IS militants have a record of reserving one of the most gruesome of its many brutal execution methods for homosexuals, dangling men from the roof of a tall building and then dropping them head first. Many Muslims consider homosexuality to be a sin, as do some Christians and members of other religions. In some parts of the world, gays and lesbians live in terror of having their sexual orientation exposed. After Sunday’s three-hour massacre in Orlando, FBI Director James Comey said, “We are working to investigate what role anti-gay bigotry played in this attack.”

Just days before the attacks, the president welcomed several hundred prominent members of the LGBT community to the East Room of the White House to celebrate LGBT Pride Month for the eighth time during his presidency. A quartet was playing and the president invited his guests to celebrate their successful struggle for equality with a glass of champagne.

“So some folks never imagined we’d come this far — maybe even some in this room," he said. "Change can be slow. And I know that there have been times where at least some of the people in this room have yelled at me. But together, we’ve proven that change is possible, that progress is possible.”

Obama got a warm, enthusiastic response from the crowds, with his guests chanting “Four more years! Four more years!"

But amid the joyous celebration, the president sounded a note of caution about all the progress the LGBT community has achieved. “It’s not inevitable, though," he said. "History doesn’t just travel forward; it can go backwards if we don’t work hard. So we can’t be complacent. We cannot be complacent.” 

Tel-Aviv city hall lit up with rainbow flag colors
FILE - Tel-Aviv city hall lit up with rainbow flag colors in solidarity with victims of Pulse Orlando shooting, Israel, June 12, 2016.

Clinton, Trump speak to LGBT community

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, also reached out to the LGBT community Monday in a statement.

“To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country," she said. "I am one of them. We will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear. Hate has absolutely no place in America.”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump also had strong words of support during a speech.

"A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub, not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation," Trump said. "It's a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation. It's an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity. It's an attack on the right of every single American to live in peace and safety in their own country."

Trump said he would be a better defender of gays and lesbians than Clinton, because of what he termed her “political correctness.” Trump also renewed his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants.