One year ago on June 12, 2016, a lone 29-year old gunman opened fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 58 others in the club. After a three hour standoff, the gunman was killed by the Orlando Police Department. The attack was the most deadly terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, and the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter ever. The victims ranged in age from 18-year-old Akyra Monet Murray, to 50 year-old Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez. Because the attack took place on Latino night, nearly all of the victims of the terrorist attack were Latino.
The LGBQT+ Latinx Community
Today, a year after the deadly attack, the LGBQT+ Latino community and the Latino community in general are still recovering from the horrible wounds inflicted that night. But despite the terrible ordeal, the attack drove the previously disparate communities together, uniting them. Before the attack, you saw Latino organizations in Orlando; you saw LGBQT+ organizations, but there weren’t any organizations that worked with the two communities at the same time.
When the attack happened, both types of organizations came together to help. Ricardo Negrón talked to NBC News about the community’s outreach before the Pulse attack. Negrón is a survivor of Pulse; he arrived at midnight to watch the drag show and only escaped being killed when the shooter’s gun jammed. He said that there was supposed to be a voter registration event at the nightclub a week later, because he thought that the club would be the right place to reach out to the Latino LGBQT+ community in the area, which hadn’t been done before.
After the attack, Negrón channeled his trauma into Proyecto Somos Orlando, a joint effort between the Hispanic Federation in Orlando and other local Latino organizations in the area. Now, with Proyecto Somos Orlando, Negrón has helped create an organization that serves the needs of the Latinx community.
“Culture of Compassion”
Elsewhere, the attack has served to bring the people of Orlando together, rather than drive them apart. Hashtags abound, decorating numerous murals, stickers, and decals on cars. #OrlandoStrong. #OrlandoUnited. Love Wins. The messages are emblazoned everywhere that you look in the city.
Gay rights are just as much a dividing issue in Orlando and Florida as they are everywhere in the nation. Despite this, over two dozen Republican officials in Central Florida have called for the creation of laws that ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. And when the proposal was unveiled at a Republican Party fundraiser, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs received a standing ovation.
Jacobs has been spearheading numerous efforts at supporting the county’s LGBQT+ community and talks about the new “culture of compassion” she sees. As a Republican lawmaker, she is happy to see that there has been a shift in attitude among her fellow Republicans when it comes to gay rights.
This culture of compassion extends to more than just the lawmakers. The citizens are embracing it as well. Business owners throughout Orlando have adopted a Safe Place initiative. By displaying a decal, these organizations and businesses pledge to serve as a refuge from harassment or violence for anyone who is the victim of a hate crime. Over 200 businesses have signed up.
Gabe Martinez, the director of clinical services at the LGBT Community Center of Central Florida told CNN that, “The Orlando Community has changed…we have more of a togetherness. When anyone goes through such tragedy we know that people tend to come together. I think we have that unity more than ever.”
Wounds Heal, But Slowly
Despite the coming together, there is still an air of discrimination against LGBQT+ people. It just hides behind an facade of civility. Still, the officials who remember, especially the ones who are gay like Patty Sheehan, keep trying to remind the city of what it was like in the days immediately after the attack.
“We as Americans will be nowhere if we hate each other and spend all our time shooting and hurting and hating. Why not love? Why not be like all those people who I saw holding candles and giving blood and donating money and caring?”
For many people, the lessons of June 12 remain firmly etched in their minds. Many members of the gay community say that they are still hesitant to go out at nights. When they do, they are constantly aware of where they are sitting and who enters the clubs. Others say that they can’t even drive by the location where Pulse used to operate; the memorials still tear at the wounds fresh in their hearts.
Still, for the businesses that still run and operate near where Pulse used to be, they are reminded every day of the city’s capacity for compassion and love. Einstein’s Bagels, located just across the street, was told that their parking lot was where many victims breathed their last breath. When asked about that day, Tammi Hamburg, the store’s general manager, points to a mural on the side of their building. Four hands spell out the word “LOVE” with 49 orange blossoms festooned around the mural – one for every victim of that horrible attack. Despite misgivings, feedback about the mural has only been positive.
“The attack brought out the best in people. It’s okay to say ‘I love you’ to your friends and let them know that you truly care about them.”
[Featured Image by John Raoux/AP Images]