On a recent trip to Orlando to visit my sister, I told her that I had to visit Pulse Nightclub. I had to see for myself the site of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history where 49 people tragically lost their lives, while an additional 53 were injured on June 12, 2016. What hit closer to home was not that it was a massacre targeted at LGBTQ individuals, but that they were all people of color. Brown and Black. People like me. People like you.
I still remember where I was when I heard the news, as I’m sure all of us do. It’s not something that we can easily forget. My friend and I had recently completed the first leg of a road trip, and had stopped for the night in a small cabin somewhere in the woods. I can still remember waking up, grabbing my phone, and reading the countless posts and articles about what had transpired in the early hours of that dark night. I can still remember reaching out to my little sister to make sure she was okay, and hearing that she knew people that had been there. I can still remember texting my friends asking what information they knew at such an early hour. I can still remember having conversations with my parents about the sheer brutality of it all and how no one deserved what those 49 souls got. And, I can still remember that realization that any one of those 49 that lost their life, or the additional 53 that were injured, could have very well been me.
I must admit, wholeheartedly, that after the story broke and more and more information poured in about what happened, I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to go to a gay bar. I didn’t want to be in large crowds. I wanted to surround myself with my supportive network and stay indoors—to stay where I knew it was safe.
I kept thinking, over and over, how this was supposed to be a safe space for them—for us. A space to be themselves—to dance, to connect, to not feel judged or persecuted. How the countless generations of LGBTQ individuals before me had worked, tooth and nail, for spaces like this to exist. And how, in such a brutal way, that was taken away from them. From us.
As we drove down the street, it is hard not to see the massive signage introducing you to Pulse Nightclub, which was shown countless times on news programs, articles, and #OrlandoStrong posts. Being there, standing there in the parking lot, and taking it all in, was excruciatingly overwhelming. The physical building is the same and the fencing surrounding it are now filled with numerous memorials, art pieces, and messages of hope and love.
The hardest part, for me, was seeing the individual faces of each of the 49 that lost their lives that night. Their photos showcasing their beautiful faces, their potential, who they were.
Visitors to the memorial can fill the art exhibits with handwritten messages of love, support, and remembrance. Reading each individual note would have taken all day—there is hardly any blank space on any of the pieces.
However, in doing so, in reading those letters of encouragement and solidarity, it made me realize that I cannot hide. I cannot let fear dictate how I live my life. The more they see of us, who we truly are, the more they can understand us.
Neema Beharami summed it up perfectly: “We will not be defeated.”
Visiting the Pulse Nightclub Memorial was a rollercoaster of emotions – from sadness to what happened, to the fear that it could happen again, but in experiencing the outpour of love, I left with the sense of hope. The hope that love can win. That the actions of a few are not of the many. That we can unite as a community and fight these injustices – together. That we must not forget.
As I left, I knew I had to leave my own words of encouragement. I hope that those 49 lives that were taken from us, far too soon, are up in Heaven, dancing the night away.
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