Right in the middle of Dayton, Ohio’s nightlife district, known to locals as Oregon, lies the heart of the city’s LGBTQ+ community.
“We jokingly call that part of downtown Dayton ‘the Fruit Loop,’” Randy Phillips, the president of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center’s board of directors, tells Out. “It’s our ‘gay district,’ so to speak. There are four gay bars within one block of each other and the LGBT Center, and there are a lot of gay-owned restaurants and [LGBTQ+-friendly] bars as you go into Oregon.”
Phillips describes the city of 140,000 people as close-knit. “When something strikes anyone in the Dayton community, it basically strikes all of us,” he says.
Those bonds have been tested after a gunman opened fire at Ned Peppers, a self-described “western-ish” beer bar, in the Oregon district August 4. Nine people were killed, while 27 others were wounded. Although the establishment primarily catered to straight people, one of the victims was Jordan Cofer, a transgender man who was also the shooter’s sibling.
In addition to claiming the life of a member of Dayton’s LGBTQ+ community, the shooting also happened in their space. Colfer was killed just blocks from the Greater Dayton LGBT Center; gay bars like Masque and The Stage Door were virtually around the corner.
For Brett Davidson, the social media coordinator for Masque, the incident has made his day-to-day life more difficult.
“I am a previous Orlando resident and was there around the time the Pulse shooting took place,” Davidson tells Out. “Having to relive it in a smaller sense here has brought back a lot of those feelings and a lot of the trauma I’ve worked on putting away.”
A number of Dayton residents say healing needs to take place before the city can move forward, and the local LGBTQ+ community is stepping up to contribute what it can. The Center is in the process of creating a safe space for survivors of this month’s shooting, and the Rubi Girls, a local drag troupe, dedicated one of their recent performances to the victims and their families. It donated all tips from the performance to the Dayton Foundation’s Tragedy Fund and promised to match them.
Jonathan McNeal, a member of the Rubi Girls, tells Out they managed to raise $2,054 in donations, and that was before their pledge to match them.
“We are here for the community as a whole,” says McNeal, “because we’re part of it.”