This month is the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the 3 year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. So I have decided to write a bit about my experience visiting the Pulse Nightclub memorial back in November 2018.
Like many of my fellow queers and friends in the LGBTQ community, I was devastated on June 12, 2016 when I learned about the mass shooting that took place at Pulse nightclub resulting in 49 dead, 68 injured, and a world in shock.
While I went to vigils up in New York, my visit to Orlando was my chance to pay my respects in person and reflect more deeply on the reality of what happened.
Being there was even more powerful than I anticipated.
The Tragedy and Aftermath
On June 12, 2016, a shooter, whom I refuse to name, entered Pulse nightclub on Latin Night shortly after 2am. There were over 300 people in the club at the time, most of them Hispanic.
The shooter open fired on the dance floor and eventually took hostages before SWAT engaged and killed him on the scene.
It's absolutely insane when something like this happens at all in the USA. Or anywhere! The motive doesn't really matter because we'll honestly never really know why it occurs. What matters is how people are affected and how we respond.
The Pulse Nightclub shooting is the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The attack had a lasting impact particularly on the Orlando community which continues to hold events around June 12th and throughout Pride month every year.
In the aftermath, the city of Orlando was going to buy the club from the owner to turn it into a memorial. There was a vote planned for the purchase and everything. But the owner, Barbara Pomo, decided to keep the club because of her emotional connection to it.
Instead, she formed a non-profit, the onePulse Foundation, to establish the memorial with community members. Barbara seems to be doing a wonderful job leading this effort, acknowledging the praise she has received from the community so far.
Where Is The Pulse Memorial
The memorial is located where the nightclub used to be in downtown Orlando at 1912 S Orange Ave.
I was staying about 25 minutes away attending the same conference I went to the year before in NOLA. The conference happened to be located near a friend. She picked me up on Friday after my presentation at the conference. We had plans to go drinking and dancing that night. But I wanted to stop at the memorial first.
As we approached the memorial, the Pulse Nightclub's original sign was the first part I noticed. The huge, glowing sign was kept there as part of the memorial which now allows visitors to leave messages behind on its illuminated base.
I think being there at night was the best time. Not only is the memorial nicely lit up, the tragedy also happened at night. So you can feel more closely what it might have been like for those involved.
An Interim Memorial
The nightclub building is temporarily protected behind barrier walls that have been decorated with photos of the rallies, vigils, and protests that erupted after the shooting. The images are beautiful and made me well up with tears.
A fading rainbow flag with messages and names sharpied into its fabric hung on one part of the fence.
A list of names of the 49 dead appear on a section of the wall behind glass. You can peer at the list, stationed closer to the nightclub's original walls.
The memorial emphasizes moving forward, focusing on positivity and love, while remembering the loss of 49 lives. The emphasis on love and light is everywhere, including onePULSE foundation's website which opens with a quote that I love:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." –Martin Luther King Jr.
This isn't even the "real" memorial yet and it is already so incredibly moving and powerful. To be there in person and feel even somewhat the reality of what happened that night was an honor and a privilege.
At one point, I sat down on a circular block that shined the words "LOVE" onto the sidewalk. I contemplated the tragedy and my role in fighting against hate and for equality.
As people assumed racism ended when Obama was elected, many people decided the gay rights movement ended when same-gender marriage became federally legal in the USA. But that is far from the case for so many people in the LGBTQ community. Marriage was but one fight—and a fight for the most privileged in our community to boot.
Trans people, people of color, and those who are most economically and socially disadvantaged in our communities continue to go overlooked, underserved, and underrepresented across all facets of life. From housing to employment to basic health care—many of us are still second class citizens, if we have the privilege of citizenship to begin with.
In short, there's always more to be done. But it should never take a tragedy like this to acknowledge it.
The onePULSE Foundation
The onePULSE Foundation is doing a number of great things to memorialize the Pulse tragedy. To name a few, the foundation is helping to maintain and protect the interim memorial, establish plans to create a museum of artifacts and stories from the tragedy, and set up scholarships in the name of each of the 49 victims.
A message at the site from the onePULSE Foundation reads:
"Welcome to the Pulse Interim Memorial
On June 12, 2016, 49 angels sought the joy, love and acceptance of Pulse Nightclub. Instead, they found hatred. And they never came home. They were gay. They were straight. Latin, black, white. Mothers. Brothers. Sisters. Daughters. Sons. Lost forever.
This tragedy united our community with people across the United States and the world, all of whom were determined to not let hate win. By leaving your message of hope, you become part of our mission.
While the planning and design of a permanent memorial at this site are underway, we invite you to walk this space as you remember and reflect.
To follow our progress and to learn how you can support our mission, please visit onepulsefoundation.org."
After Pulse—We Dance!
After I visited the Pulse memorial, my friend and I drove less than 10 minutes away to Southern Nights. This is a LGBTQ bar and club that is now essentially the replacement Pulse hot spot.
Of course, it took some time for the community to heal and feel safe again in a space like this. But over 2 years after the events of June 12th, 2016 and the gay thumpa-thumpa keeps going! Queers are ever resilient.
I had a great time at this club watching an epic drag show back-to-back with an equally epic burlesque show. The whole club then got lively on a packed dance floor.
Throughout the night, during the drag show in particular, there were small acknowledgments to the Pulse tragedy. There was mentioning of Pulse veterans in the room and others who were integral in the aftermath. You could feel the pride and closeness of this community—still raw with hurt but filled with love and support.
I made it my main priority to see the Pulse Nightclub interim memorial while visiting Orlando for work. I am so glad I found the time to go.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit, I encourage you to go. If not and if you feel moved to do so, I encourage you to consider donating to the onePULSE foundation. Donate here for as low as $1.
Either way, take some time to consider ways you can honor the dead and support LGBTQ people in your own way.
Love and light over hate and darkness.