I left Orlando for school in Philadelphia a week after the tragedy at Pulse. My friends were still grieving, lines of people waiting to donate blood still stretched across many blocks in 100-degree weather, and names had just recently stopped being added to the list of victims. My newsfeed flooded with a range of emotions and reactions — some angry and hurt; frustrated, confused; but also strong, hopeful, and full of love. There were (and still are) a lot of open wounds, particularly in the queer and latinx communities. Pulse nightclub, on Latin Night, was a safe place for people who often couldn’t feel safe elsewhere. That atmosphere of fun, acceptance, and community at Pulse is something that has been fought for and hard-earned.
There has been an outpouring of support, both locally and nationally, for Orlando, its queer communities, and the victims of the shooting. I wondered what I could contribute, as an artist and writer, and an Orlando native (born and raised) away from home. I think the best that I can do right now is defer to a few creative voices closer to the affected communities than myself. The sincere words of Ashley Inguanta, Sabrina Napolitano, and the artistic expression of David Matteson, beautifully express some of the ways our communities have begun to process these horrific events.
Here is what I remember: I was at home, and my partner told me there was a shooting. “Twenty dead,” he said, “at Pulse nightclub.” I don’t remember much else from that morning. My body felt like it was hollowing; it felt like my body was emptying, and I sat on the bed, and I started shaking, and then I started texting and calling everyone I knew who loved Pulse. “Were you there? Were you there?” One after another: “No, not last night,” they said. “I was not there,” they said. One after another, my friends were marked “safe” online. But some of their friends were not safe. This week, some of my dearest friends have attended funerals.
Over the past week, I’ve watched my friends hold and release some of the heaviest and most painful emotions I have ever witnessed. I am doing my best to be here for them; to bring them yoga, meditation, love, conversation, silence. I will do anything for my community, my Orlando. Anything kind and soul-nourishing, I will give.
I have been living here for nearly twelve years. I keep coming back here because there is love here; Orlando taught me how to love. I hope that we can honor the victims of the Pulse massacre by remembering them, by taking care of their loved ones, and by learning to love and nurture the differences between us that make us human.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about how safe I feel now. That’s been such a strange question for me because the truth is that I’ve always felt a little unsafe. Being gay very much holds a steady undercurrent of anxiety. ”Will my partner and I walk by the wrong person?”; “Which towns should we not hold hands in?”; “Should I pretend to be straight in this situation?” I ask myself those questions more often than I’d like to admit.
So, to have a space that was forged to be safe for the LGBT community taken away so violently doesn’t make me feel unsafe. It makes me feel violated. Someone came into my home and shot my own family. Someone took their lives from them in the one place they shouldn’t have had to be afraid. I mourn for them every day.
But, we are still dancing. We are still loving. We are still having Pride, and kissing in the streets, and daring to live. I like to think that shows something about us. That we’ve come together so quickly, so brilliantly. The straight community has rallied for us. The president has rallied for us. The city itself, has rallied for us. So, “safe”? No, I didn’t ever quite feel completely safe. But someone tried to take a space from us, and we took it right back. We will keep dancing. I know that much, at least.