Central Florida paused this week to remember the Pulse shooting six months later.
Florida is known the world over for retirees, beaches and theme parks. To that list is now added Pulse, the gay nightclub in which 49 people were senselessly gunned down six months ago in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.
Today, many visitors to Orlando make the pilgrimage to the now shuttered and fenced nightclub in which a three-hour standoff took place between police and a lone shooter who loaded and reloaded his weapon, snuffing out 49 lives. Discussion are ongoing between the city and the club owner about its future. Will it open? Will it move? What will happen to the site?
Pulse is a rather inappropriate-appropriate name of the event that woke up the city to the horrors of gun violence, leaving the heart of the City Beautiful throbbing in pain. Orlando has not been the same since.
In that instant, Orlando – indeed, Central Florida – opted to beat as one: embrace diversity and difference even more, even tighter.
“We reacted with love,” said Orlando City Councilwoman Patty Sheehan, who is gay, adding that on the Pulse anniversary the City Council voted to maintain open the emergency operations center to continue to assist victims and their families.
Six months later, about one-third of residents understand that Pulse was an attack against the LGBT community, according to an Orlando Sentinel poll. Another 21 percent thinks it was a combination of terrorism, an attack on gays and on Hispanics, who made up about half or more of the Pulse victims. It had been Latin night at the club on the evening of the shooting.
Poignant and Heartfelt
At the ceremony at the Orange County History Center, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was poignant and honest. Pulse “forced people to think hard about where they stood on these issues of equality,” she said.
It is fitting that the six-month anniversary fell on the day of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico who also is considered the Virgen de las Américas. Just as her image was present on many candles at the impromptu sites that popped up around town, she is there today at the original club site and other locations guarding the souls and the stories of that night and the weeks that followed.
Forgets the Victims
Because it very much seems that the story of Pulse is passing into officialdom, becoming pro forma. Mistakes happen at public events. We tend to overlook them. But at the Orange County History Center ceremony there was a particularly glaring omission. Ceremony host Terry DeCarlo “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Yes, he did.
Instead, we heard a litany of the names of the elected officials present, all sitting in the special section behind the podium. No Pulse-related family appeared to be sitting in that area.
“I was remiss in not mentioning the families, survivors and staff of Pulse,” said DeCarlo, executive director of the GLBT Center of Central Florida , almost in passing and looking straight at the audience.
How do you forget the very thing for which you have gathered to remember? How do you forget to recall the lives and presence of the Pulse victims and survivors, remember their pain, remember their passing? The rest of Orlando hasn’t suffered at all in comparison. It just thinks it has.
Grass Roots Is Buried
The only way to forget is if Pulse has become enshrined in officialdom, that the grass roots causes that emerged after the tragedy are being lost, being buried – in favor of naming all the elected officials present, in favor of what may or may not happen to the club with only a superficial nod to families and survivors.
I was relieved that city and county officials had the sense to include Hispanic staffers to read the names of the 49 victims. They did an excellent job. Otherwise, we would have had to endure the unbearable mangling of the beautiful Latino victims’ names, and that would have been another sure sign of the carelessness in the handling of Pulse as time goes on, as government and others take over.
Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to catch the Pulse exhibit at the Orange County History Center, as DeCarlo said at the end almost in passing.
UPDATE 12-14: The Orlando Sentinel reported that the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs is “investigating [two] complaints about how The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida handled a flood of donations that came into the not-for-profit group after the Pulse shooting.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor