Ex-Wife, Pulse Patrons: Omar Mateen Was Gay, Regularly Attended LGBT Nightclubs
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Omar Mateen, the gunman who perpetrated the deadliest mass shooting thus far in the United States early Sunday morning, took the lives of 49 people at a gay club named Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The venue, like so many dance clubs that serve LGBT folks, had served as a safe space by those who patronized it; a sanctuary from anti-gay violence and hatred. Numerous news outlets have reported on the story as a case of Islamic extremism or homophobic brutality. But there is new evidence that Mateen was himself gay, had been seen at Pulse many times over recent years and had used gay dating apps. While there is no excuse for Mateen’s horrific act, these new details paint a portrait of a man whose internalized homophobia may have been a factor in the attacks.
Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s first wife, who says he was often abusive, told the New York Daily News that when they wed in 2009, he told her his life had previously included frequent clubbing.
“When we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past—that was recent at that time—and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife," Yusufiy said. "So, I feel like it's a side of him or a part of him that he lived but probably didn't want everybody to know about."
Yusufiy and her current fiance, Marcio Dias, appeared on Brazilian television yesterday. The UK’s Daily Mail notes that during the interview, which was translated from Portuguese, Dias “told the channel that Yusufiy told him Mateen had 'gay tendencies' and had been called gay in front of her on several occasions by his father.”
The paper also quotes Dias as telling his Brazilian interviewers, “The FBI asked her not to tell this to the American media.”
The Daily News also points to an interview with one of Mateen’s classmates from 2006, a period when both were enrolled in a Florida police academy. The classmate spoke anonymously with Orlando’s WFTV9, telling the station that Mateen had once asked him out on a date.
“We went to a few gay bars with him,” the classmate said, “and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer.”
At least four regular patrons of Pulse said they had seen Mateen at the club on numerous occasions before Sunday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. While there have been news items suggesting Mateen had visited the venue in recent weeks for surveillance purposes, other clubgoers say Mateen’s visits went back years.
"Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent," Ty Smith told the paper. "We didn't really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times. He told us he had a wife and child."
Another patron, Chris Callen, told the Canadian Press that he had seen Mateen in the club multiple times.
"It's the same guy," Callen, who performs drag using the stage name Kristina McLaughlin, told CJAD. "He's been going to this bar for at least three years."
Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, previously told NBC News that his son had become “enraged” after seeing two men kiss in the weeks prior to the carrying out the massacre. Smith and Callen expressed doubt that incident was connected to the killings, stating that Mateen had witnessed plenty of men kiss before in the club.
"That's bullcrap, right there,” said Smith to CJAD. “No offense. That's straight-up crap. He's been around us. Some of those people did a little more than (kiss) outside the bar... He was partying with the people who supposedly drove him to do this?"
Smith added, "[Mateen would get] really, really drunk... He couldn't drink when he was at home—around his wife, or family. His father was really strict... He used to bitch about it."
Another Pulse regular told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen had messaged him regularly using the LGBT-focused app Jack’d. Police said they are looking into Mateen’s related activity.
As of this writing, six of those shot by Mateen remain in critical condition. Over the last two days, vigils have been held around the country, as well as abroad, for those who were fatally killed by the shooter.