LGBT Safe Places designated one year after Pulse

- It was the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBT community in U.S. history.

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a gunman walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and opened fire. More than 50 were wounded and 49 people were killed. 

Sefrey Gilleran is the general manager of Cityside Lounge, a gay bar in Tampa. He was bartending the night of the Pulse attack.

"We were targeted. The LGBT Community was targeted. Plain and simple," Gilleran said. "First thing that came to my head was, 'Everyone, look at your nearest exits,' and that's always going to kind of be the thing. Anytime you go to a nightclub now or restaurant or business, always look at your nearest exits."

A year later, the wall at Cityside is a permanent reminder of Pulse - the faces of the 49 victims framed above a table set for two.

"It's our way of showing, symbolizing, that they're not forgotten," said Cityside's owner, James Encke. "They're here. They're with us and they will always be here with us."

"I mean, those are our LGBT brothers and sisters. I mean, that could have been us," Gilleran pointed out.

After the Pulse massacre, the city of Orlando launched the Safe Place initiative. They partnered with area businesses to display a decal sticker as a symbol of safety for victims of LGBT crime.

Now, Tampa is taking that idea and expanding on it.

"It's not just for the LGBT community. It's all hate crime," explained Tampa Police Detective Robin Polk .

She is one of the leaders of the Tampa Safe Place initiative.

"The business partnerships basically involves us putting a sticker on their business. The business then allows whoever is a victim of a hate crime to come wait for police arrival and then we take over the investigation. We're not expecting business owners to get involved in solving crimes," said Detective Polk.

Cityside is one of the first businesses to join with Tampa Police as a safe place.

"It could be anybody. It doesn't even have to be sexual orientation. It could be race. It could be whatever the case is," said Gilleran.

Raid Salman, the owner of Taste Of Jerusalem, a restaurant in Tampa, is also making his business a safe place.

"To help those people, to open our business for any person who needs help," said Salman.

Police say the number of hate crimes in Tampa is low, between one and four per year. But the Southern Poverty Law Center said Florida has more hate groups than nearly every other state - more than 60.

"The numbers are somewhat misleading because we believe the number of hate crime incidents have not been reported. They are absolutely underreported", said Special Agent Kristin Rehler of the FBI in Tampa.

She said it could be due to a lack of understanding.

"People don't really know where the line is between a hate incident and a hate crime. Hate by itself is not a violation. It's not a crime. If fear is a factor, please don't be afraid. You can be anonymous. We do take it seriously and we will investigate," said Rehler.

Detective Polk hopes the Safe Place initiative will give those who may be victims of a hate crime a new sense of security.

"No one wants to think that their clients or their patrons are being victimized so by doing this we allow people that are victims to know, 'Okay, I don't have to hide. It's not a secret,'" said Detective Polk.

Tampa businesses interested in participating in the Safe Place initiative can go to https://www.tampagov.net/police/safe-place/participate

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