In the wake of the horrific mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando this week, former One News reporter Matty McLean shares what he felt as a gay man upon hearing the news.
I was 20 when I finally plucked up the courage to come out.
Very soon afterwards, my good friend Lucy insisted we go to the local gay bar. I was apprehensive, but have an innate inability to say no to people, so I walked out of the closet, grabbed a pair of skinny jeans on my way, and went to party like the gay man I was proudly trying to be.
To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. But then Fergie's Glamorous came on (hey, it was 2007) and I got lost. Lost in a feeling of security, of knowing I was absolutely, unequivocally allowed to be exactly who I was. It was a safe space, free from fear or judgement, and it felt fantastic.
A lot has changed since 2007 (although I'd still dance my ass off to Fergie). We've come a long way in terms of our tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people. But that safe feeling has never left me any time I’ve step inside a gay club.
But this weekend, one of those spaces became terrifyingly unsafe.
The deaths of approximately 50 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida is the deadliest shooting in US history. That, in itself, is horrific.
But this wasn't a mass shooting at a place that just happened to be a gay bar. This took place because Pulse is a gay bar. Because the man behind the attack wanted to prey on members of the LGBT community. In their safe space.
And it made me mad as hell. But it also made me feel scared. Scared to be gay. And that's a feeling I haven't had in a very, very long time.
I'm incredibly lucky to live and work in a supportive environment, surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, who support me unreservedly. But this was a reminder that there are people out there who don't share that tolerance and acceptance, and worse than that, people who might try to hurt me and my community.
Something happened, though, that turned my fear into strength. My social media lit up. I saw news articles about vigils around the world. I read blogs and articles and tweets that showed a world standing together. I heard my best mate Jack Tame report from Orlando and talk about the humanity of the situation there. It reminded me that the world is still full of love and hope and compassion.
So today, I choose love over fear. I choose to stand strong and proud.
My heart breaks for the victims of this horrific tragedy, and for their family and friends. But I won't hide. I'll continue to think of bars like Pulse as my safe space.
I'm in London now, and it's Gay Pride in a couple of weeks, and I'll be there with bells on (or maybe fairy wings).
Because, at the end of the day, love wins.