A Year Since Pulse
By Thomas Rex
Gay clubs have been a space for us queer people to forget the ignorance of the outside world for at least a couple of nights in our lives. Clubs are a safe place where pop songs float through the air, and club kids hit all five points of vogue on the dance floor. The world feels like it’s all in one hot, sweaty building.
June 12th, 2016, was supposed to be just another regular Sunday night out for club goers at Orlando’s popular Pulse Nightclub. With drag queens ready to perform, drinks ready to be drunk, and Latin night ready to be celebrated, no one expected to lose 49 queer people that night.
We all know the story: it’s the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Children were lost, parents were lost, and partners were lost. But what happened after? Pulse reopened in a new location, and multiple kickstarters and organizations were set up to raise money for survivors and relatives of victims.
A month after the Pulse shooting, I begrudgingly moved to Orlando. As a seventeen-year-old queer kid who was already insecure about their identity, moving to a place with the largest crime against my community didn’t strike me as enticing. But I was surprised by what I saw when I was driving through my new city. Rainbow flags and “Orlando Strong” stickers were all around, and almost a year later the city is still decorated with rainbows. Besides the donation funds, the rainbow flags, and the local support that helped everyone feel externally safe, art played a huge role in the internal strengthening of the LGBT+ community.
Six months after the shooting, photographer Cassi Alexandra interviewed and photographed people affected by the incident to show the strength of the LGBT+ community and its allies. Alexandra’s beautiful photographs are part of an emotional series titled “We Are Family.” Alexandra states on her website that it “…examines the acceptance of violence and recovery process a community goes through after a mass shooting in America.” The images show us sadness, but also hope for the future of transformation, while her interviews prove that change is here, and more change is coming.
Since Pulse has reopened, the barriers surrounding the original location have unlocked. The gates and the abandoned building were turned into an artful outcry that begs for love and acceptance of the LGBT+ community.
Curator of the event, Mr. Brainwash, said “It’s a statement that we are here. We’re not forgetting. We are right here giving love.” Revealed in October of last year, the mural was worked on all throughout the night by various artists. Prints of the mural were available for purchase online for a time, with all proceeds going towards the One Pulse Foundation and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to turn the location into a memorial site.
Another large portion of the healing process has been through entertainment. The strength and support of big names in queer media has helped not only make queer entertainment more widely known and accessible, but queer presence online and on TV makes stay-at-home queer people feel a little bit safer. One example of queer entertainment is the drag queen reality competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Contestants have shared their own experiences of the Pulse tragedy on and off the show. One queen had her first gig at Pulse, while another was scheduled to perform the night of the shooting but had to cancel.
“We never expected a tragedy [would] happen like this in our community, or happen in our clubs,” said current contestant, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, on the most recent episode of Drag Race, “because we thought we finally built a safe place for our community.” Even through tragedy, many drag queens have feel like it’s their duty as entertainers and spokespeople to look out for each other, as well as the younger queer community.
To get a closer look at the incident, I reached out to a local celebrity for a personal view on the situation. Jackie Garcia, under the pseudonym JaxxGarcia, made the short-lived world of Vine funnier and more inclusive. Her hilarious videos about being a bisexual Latina give insight on what it’s like to be Latin and queer. Garcia’s stories of her adventures with her fellow queer friends remind viewers that queer people are people: we work, we go out and party, and surprise! We have feelings too.
Her videos have thousands of views on both Tumblr and the posthumous Vine, and have been included in many “best of vine” compilations. Garcia has been a beacon of humor for queer people to watch when we feel surrounded by the ignorance of those around us.
1. Have you ever been to pulse? (If so what was it like?) Or did you know anyone that went there?
“I’ve never been there personally, but I’ve been to P house, and I knew several people who’ve been to Pulse. My best friend worked for Disney and another friend worked in Universal and they had both been to Pulse. And I’m currently dating someone in Orlando, so I know the area pretty well.”
2. When I first heard the news about the shooting, I was in my room. I couldn’t help but feel unimaginably small, like I couldn’t do anything. Where were you when you found out and how did you react?
“When I woke up the next morning is when all the news came in. I was with my ex in Miami at the time, and I remember I didn’t hear the news until I started getting panicked texts from my best friend who found out by watching a live stream. He knows people who were there. He lost someone. I think any queer person was definitely in shock and panicked.”
3. How do you feel the gay club atmosphere has changed since?
“Miami and Orlando are very close; a lot of the victims were from Miami. When I went to Palace, which is one of the gay bars on Ocean Drive, someone found out they lost their cousin right then. Everyone was there for the Pulse vigil. I remember someone bumped into me and turned around and gave me a hug. It was like a five-minute hug, it was a moment of “I’ve got you, we’re in it together.”
“The club scene after pulse was a mix of ‘Fuck you! We’re partying anyway!’ and a lot of fear. After the vigil, no one was at the clubs for a while. All the drag queens cancelled; they didn’t want to get shot. When I went to Southern Nights, they patted me down and now have metal detectors like at Universal. I definitely think that’s what’s changed in Orlando, they’re not going to let [another shooting] happen again. But now, especially after Pulse, if I hear fireworks I’m like, ‘FUCK SHIT DAMNIT! HERE I GO, HERE’S THE TIME!’”
4. What kinds of efforts have been made in the LGBT+ community that you’ve noticed or participated in?
“The Miami gay community is very Miami. It’s very party-party, and while we were all connected at the vigil and for the victims, Miami’s attitude was ‘We’re going to party anyway.’
But I went to Orlando right after Pulse happened. Every single company that existed in Orlando was part of a two-hour parade. You could tell people were there because they felt like they needed to be. People were trying to be as positive as they could, but you could definitely tell there was darkness. I know the Orlando area has done so much. There are still Orlando Pride flags everywhere in that city, they’re strong and they’re going to bring the community up.
As for the LGBT community, it hasn’t so much changed as it has stayed. The older gays have to stay strong for the younger community. It’s what they did during the AIDs outbreak and Stonewall, so we have to do it again now. What really helped was the government and Obama. It was unprecedented, so the help from the administration gave a voice to the community. I feel everything has changed but nothing has changed at the same time.”
5. How do you feel the shooting impacted the LGBT+ community? How do you think outsiders feel about the queer community now?
“I’m gonna’ be honest: I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s not my concern how I think the outside thinks. There’s bound to be negativity, and I don’t like to invite that into my identity and life. There are always going to be allies and there are always going to be ignorant people. We need those allies to help us, but unfortunately there are always going to be ignorant people.”
6. Most if not all the victims of the shooting were Latino, do you feel that people now realize there are more to gays than skinny white boys with the same haircut? As in, do you think people are becoming more aware of the internal racism within the gay community?
“Gay people don’t even know that! Bitch, please, I have to fight on social media about this all the time. When you’re Latino and you’re gay, it’s double trouble.
I can’t describe to you the feeling of finding out that the 49 victims were Latinos and black Latinos. I don’t think people understand that it was tough seeing all those last names that weren’t white, that they were like me. It was hard seeing that this man chose a Latin themed night and thought of us as dirty. But for people to forget that Latinos were ALSO targeted, along with being gay, hurt. And sadly people still don’t see that. Being Latino is just as much a part of me as being bi. They’re both me.
The moment people kind of began to realize the racial aspect was at Orlando pride, when the parents of the victims gave speeches. Everyone heard their heavy immigrant accents loud and clear.”
7. What can be done to help the rest of the LGBT+ community feel safe outside LGBT+ spaces? As in how can we reach a gayer, queerer, star trek future?
“It’s like making a black person feel safe around a cop. It has to be more than just a charity event or marriage equality. It’s going to take decades. When my girlfriend is down here, I don’t feel safe holding her hand. In Orlando I do, but Miami I don’t.
To feel safe, you have to hide yourself. I hate saying that because it’s not fair. There is no guarantee, as queer people, that we’re going to be safe. But that didn’t stop people in the past. The only thing we can do is live our life, know our surroundings, and look out for one another. As a person with a platform, the only thing I’ve been able to do is be unapologetically myself, and that helps people. I think if people are defiant in heteronormativity, that’s the only way to grow. I don’t encourage younger people to do that because it can be risky and dangerous. But for the older community we have to make history by defying the status quo.”
8. What kind of advice can you give someone, such as a spicy young gay queer Floridian implant from Jersey, who has never been to a gay club before and is afraid to because of the Pulse incident?
“BOY, you go! If there are any clubs that are safe, they’re the Orlando ones. Especially for us, it’s just a club or bar: it’s a hang out. The club scene in Orlando is tight. You can’t live your life in fear. You’re gonna’ regret it. You’re not getting in without a pat down. If you were in Miami I’d say go anyway, the club scene is hot here. It’s America.
But be careful, you’re going to get your predatory people because queer people are still people. Gay bars aren’t the exception just ‘cuz they’re gay You have to be safe, but that’s just me being me, but definitely go and just be safe. Go because it’s only going to be a regret that you didn’t go to a gay club when you were in your prime.”