A Pedacito Of The 5th Anniversary Of The Pulse Nightclub Massacre
Updated: Jan 8
Even writing the title of this post is unreal. Seeing videos and reading stories about a historic moment in time that actually impacted you and several of your friends is surreal. I imagine it is much like hearing about the World Trade Center attacks and actually living in New York City where you had a personal connection to something to a place that was just part of your daily life; always there but nothing too important about it for you.
Pulse Nightclub was something like that to me. I had lots of fond memories of going there with friends for an escape to our week trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, to be gay, to be comfortable in the person that you were becoming... Pulse was more than a club, it was a sort of community center, where you were safe and everyone there was just like you in their own special way.
I might have been 21 when I first visited Pulse. I remember going in and being overwhelmed by how open everyone was; it was almost uncomfortable for me at first. I suppose everyone goes through some sort of identity journey in their lives and for me being comfortable and even understanding my sexual identity was an overwhelming process that is way too complicated to synthesize into a post like this.
In short, I struggled with finding myself, as many young adults do, and trying to discover who I was in all aspects of my life was... complicated... On one hand, you are discovering adulthood and what it means to be independent. On the other hand, determining how you're "supposed to act" in a professional environment versus how you're "supposed to act" in a group of gay friends/acquaintances versus how you're "supposed to act" around your family who has expressly said they don't agree or like the fact that you're gay...
In retrospect, it is obvious that in my discovery journey, my friends and family were also on a journey trying to understand how they were "supposed to act" around me. Life felt complicated and our escapes to Pulse were truly that: escaping to a safe place where everyone could be themselves even if they didn't quite all have their lives together.
Much like any other traumatic moment in history, we all remember what we were doing the night of the Pulse massacre. By 2016 I was already around the age where I didn't care to go out clubbing so I hadn't been out in several months. That night I was invited to go to Pulse with a friend, I think because his cousin was in town, but at the last minute, we decided to go to a different club called Southern Nights (less than 3 miles away).
We of course overindulged and irresponsibly drank too much and I distinctly remember toward the end of the night that something extraordinary was happening. The police officer at the door was visibly in shock as though he was hearing the events unfolding on the radio.
When I left the bar, already paranoid because I knew I should have probably taken an Uber instead of driving, I saw police swarming the area. This wasn't a normal response to a normal event, I saw police cars marked from neighboring cities showing up with sirens blaring as they sped toward Downtown Orlando. I knew something significant had taken place.
I made it home safely and fell asleep when one of my friends calls me asking where I was and if I was ok; he knew that I was going out that night. He told me that there was a shooting at Pulse and he wanted to make sure I was ok... I was ok, but that is when the pieces connected for me: the significant event that I saw unfolding was an attack on our community's safe haven.
By the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, the official reports were coming in that the events with which I cross paths overnight were of historic proportions. It was clear that the shooting was a targeted attack and that there were many people killed. While the details weren't fully revealed until later that day, in total 49 beautiful souls were lost that night.
Having grown up in Orlando, Florida, I have several friends that each have their own story from that night. The person I was dating at the time had several friends who were injured and some of those killed were his acquaintances. The attack took place on Latin Night, which made it even more personal for me...
Jose Cabranes (@JCabranesPhotography) was one of my friends who was also going to Pulse that night but suddenly decided against it. "The last time I went was a few months before the shooting and I was supposed to be there that night," Jose told me. "But, last minute changed my mind. And by last minute I mean, I had the blinker on to get off the exit."
For John Anthonie (@JAnthonie), Pulse Nightclub represented many firsts for him as he arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 19. "After coming from a place like Puerto Rico where a lot of “machismo” floats in the air from the moment we are born I had never had the chance to feel proud or even understand what being gay entailed."
Just as it was for me, Pulse represented a safe place where John could be himself and discover his community. "I made so many amazing friends at Pulse, I danced, laughed, and learned that from that moment on I could celebrate my existence and I could enjoy being me."
I am happy that none of my friends were at the club that night. However, I was amazed to hear that one of my friends from my previous work actually lived across the street and had an unwanted front-row seat to the horror that ensued that night. Kelly Kipp shared her story on Facebook on the 5th anniversary of the event.
"I’ll never forget those moments that drew into hours as we witnessed the horrific events of the Pulse massacre those five years ago. I still vividly remember running back inside and hiding. Watching from the floor out our bathroom window and listening to scanners trying to figure out what was going on.
Living so close to the club, I can only imagine the fear that must have overcome her and her friends as they tried to make sense of each of the sounds they heard from their apartment.
All the cops arriving and their lights soon coloring the street. The people fleeing when a moment arose to run away or later when groups helped carry wounded towards the hospital in whatever way they could. I’ll never forget the agents with long guns outside my window as they began to form the perimeter nor the loud boom when they attempted a breach."
Like so many others, Kelly was emotionally scarred for years to come. The sound of fireworks would trigger anxiety and fear. I, having personally experienced a breach of my home at gunpoint a few years earlier, was afraid to go to these places that were previously considered our safe havens...
Amidst the tragedy which took place that night 5 years ago, however, came the unification of a community. The City of Orlando came together to mourn the loss of 49 of our own. I witnessed a transformation occur over the coming months and years that really is something to be proud of. Orlando is a more inclusive community since this unfortunate event.
This past weekend the city hosted several events in memory of those who lost their lives and to highlight how our community came together. It reminded me of the daily updates via social media and local news stations where the entire world came together in support of those affected. Monuments such as The Wheel at Icon Park and The Eiffel Tower adjusted their lighting to show their support.
All of the historical images on this post are from the exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center. They did an incredible job honoring the souls that perished that day. It featured several of the artifacts at makeshift memorials throughout the city that emerged as each part of our community did their part to show their support and to grieve.
Below is a walkthrough of the exhibit. There were two parts so watch until the end to see the beautiful display of crosses showing the pictures of each person who lost their lives, showing their name and age...
I encourage you to take some time to look through some of the hashtags that emerged, such as #OrlandoStrong and #OnePulse. A lot has happened in the last 5 years for the LGBTQ+ community and I am hopeful that our continued celebration of Pride increases the public's awareness, acceptance, and will lead to unquestioned inclusion of all people.
While Pride may have different meanings to different people, to me it means allowing people an opportunity to express themselves as they are, even if they are still trying to figure out what that means to them. Self-identity is something that we've all had to deal with regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, etc. We ALL deserve equal rights!
At the exhibit was a model on display of what could come of the Pulse Nightclub property; shown below. Today, the site serves as a beautiful memorial where locals and foreigners visit and pay their respects to those lost on that night in June of 2016, but it also serves as a beacon of hope for the future.
I have visited the site a few times since, I get emotional each time, but am encouraged when I see parents taking their young children to learn from this experience. Homophobia is systemic and the only way to break this chain of misunderstanding and, unfortunately sometimes, hate is by teaching the next generation about what it means to love everyone regardless of what makes them different. After all, at our core, we really are all after the same things in life.