BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Mark Cummings said he won’t let hate win.
Cummings, owner of Al’s on Seventh, said his establishment is an “everyone bar,” where all, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, can feel safe.
So when Cummings heard about a threat against one of the community’s bars – a place meant to be a safe space – he took it seriously.
A local resident, Cummings explained, had shared on social media that she’d overheard individuals in a local bar discussing their plan to “shoot up” a historically gay bar in Birmingham. Cummings reached out to her, got more details and provided the information he’d gathered to Josh Coleman, who serves as a liaison between the LGBTQ community and the office of Mayor Randall Woodfin.
Coleman, in turn, forwarded the information to Birmingham police.
“Threats of this nature are always troublesome, no matter what community they are targeting—even if they are made in a ‘joking’ manner,” Coleman said. “Words have real meaning with actual consequences. Hateful rhetoric oftentimes leads to unnecessary violence.”
Birmingham police said the department’s intelligence unit investigated the threats and that local businesses were notified of the situation.
“We provided extra patrol at Al’s and the Quest with the officers walking inside and checking on the businesses regularly,” BPD Sgt. Monica Law said. “We have advised business owners and increased patrols. We’ve also asked businesses to be vigilant in their safety protocols and notify us immediately if anything was to occur. We will continue to work with the LGBTQ community to ensure their safety.”
Cummings said that increased threats and attacks against LGBTQ individuals and institutions across the country in recent years have left the community on its toes.
“Since what happened at Pulse, we’ve had our head on a swivel,” Cummings said. “This just reiterates that we’ve got to watch our backs and be careful.”
Cummings said that Birmingham police went “above and beyond” in responding to the potential threat.
Members of the Birmingham community, too, have stepped up to make sure those in the LGBTQ feel loved and protected, Cummings said. When he arrived at work Sunday, a handmade wreath lay at the establishment’s front door.
“Some of us Birminghamians wanted to reach out with a small gesture of LOVE,” the attached note said. “Please know you are welcome. Please know you are supported. Please know you ROCK. Much love to you and the whole community.”
“It meant the world to me and my staff and the whole community,” Cummings said of the gesture. “A lot of people were very touched by that – I’m just going to call them an angel. Just reaching out was a small token, but it meant a lot to us.”
Safety of workers and patrons must always be the priority, Cummings said, but he won’t allow bigots to make Al’s on Seventh a fortress. It’s an open place for all, he said, and it’ll stay that way.
“We don’t want what happened in Colorado Springs or what happened in Pulse in 2016 to happen here,” he said. “These are our queer safe spaces. People may be afraid to hold hands in the street, but this is a safe place for them to be 100 percent themselves.”
Even in a time of tension and uncertainty in the LGBTQ community, Cummings said it’s important for those targeted by hateful rhetoric and actions to continue to live their lives boldly.
“We can’t live in fear, and we can’t let those who hate win,” he said. “And if we stay home, they win.”