Pulse Club

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Pulse Survivor Says ‘Never Forget’ One Year Later

Pulse club survivor José Martínez of Orlando has come through a very difficult year. /Maria Padilla

But for a cigarette, José Martínez might not be here today, nearly one year after the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub

The worse mass shooting in U.S. history left 49 people dead and dozens of others injured. Because it had been Latin night at Pulse, many of the victims and survivors were LatinX like Martínez.

Martínez doesn’t smoke but early Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, after the Pulse show ended and the last-drink call, he stepped out to the patio with a friend for a cigarette break.   

Suddenly, rising above the bachata music, he heard screams. “Probably a fight,” Martínez thought. But the screams became louder and without warning people busted out the door, screaming, pushing and trampling each other, trying to jump over the fence. The bachata and club lights went out and that’s when Martínez heard the rapid gunfire.

“We were on the patio and I lit two cigarettes, one for him and one for me. I was pretending to smoke. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. That saved my life,” says Martínez, 38, originally from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.

To say that it’s been a difficult year doesn’t begin to describe Martínez’s emotional and mental anguish for which he has sought psychological help.

“It’s hard, very hard, to forget what has happened. The screams. I cannot tolerate screams anymore. It starts flashbacks,” he says.

The Pulse shooting unleashed other issues as well. What would his two daughters ages 16 and 15 who live in Puerto Rico think? Did they know he was gay? Having barely gotten over the then recent death of his mother, Martínez was back at square one.

Hitting Bottom after Pulse

“When Pulse happened, I hit bottom again. I continued to become depressed and had to see a pyschologist and a psychiatrist.”

And he had to get by without the help and camaraderie of his friends, so many of whom died at Pulse, where they regularly met for Latin night.

José Martínez said that “nothing had ever happened at Pulse.”

“We went to Latin night almost every Saturday,” a weekly ritual for the past six years. “Nothing had ever happened at the club, only an occasional fight. Nothing had ever happened.”

Martínez lost his cell phone in the ruckus, putting him out of reach and out of touch with family and friends. Once home in south Orlando, his brother rushed to his apartment, saying that his “sisters are upset, crying on the floor, because they think you’re dead. They’re calling you and think you’re dead because you’re not on the list of people …”

The tall, slim Martínez explains that he lied to his brother. “I said I wasn’t there [at Pulse] to protect above anyone else my daughters.”

A Hidden Life

Martínez said he has not led what he called “a hidden life,” which many gay LatinX do, often attributed to sexual identity taboos in Latino culture.

“In our culture we don’t talk about aunt this or uncle that” if they’re gay, according to social worker and mental health professional Nancy Rosado, a founder of Somos Orlando, formed in the aftermath of Pulse to provide culturally competent mental health counseling to LatinX Pulse survivors and family members. “It’s as if that person doesn’t exist.”

According to Martínez, he has always taken care that his daughters not find out about his gay identity in a negative way. Last July he traveled to Puerto Rico for a daughter’s quinceañero. “I went with that fear,” he says, not knowing if there would be discomfort or even a confrontation.

Neither of his daughters broached the subject. “My daughters haven’t asked me anything” to this day, he added.

But on Sunday, July 12, Martínez couldn’t keep up the lie with his brother and sisters, who demanded to know whether he had been at Pulse. He replied, “I’m alive and that’s what’s important. Let me be in peace to look for my friends.”

Back to Work

In the days and weeks that followed, Martínez returned to work in sales at Direct TV but “there were so many memories.” He says he no longer works in sales but rather in the warehouse, away from the public.

Martínez is seeing a psychologist every two weeks, down from every week last year. “I can control my emotions now and I can be among crowds of people.”

The financial settlement from the city’s Pulse fund has helped a great deal, said Martínez, who had high praise for City Hall staff and Mayor Buddy Dyer for regularly staying in touch.

Clubbing Again

He has even begun to go out clubbing once again, first as part of his therapy but now with friends. He likes a new club called Babalú in Kissimmee.

At first, Martínez went to Parliament House off Orange Blossom Trail, where during his very first outing he “found” a club acquaintance he had been searching for. Each broke down and cried. The friend had lost three friends at Pulse.

“We embraced very tightly.”

What Martínez and many other survivors most want Orlando and the rest of the world to know is that healing takes time.

“There’s the expectation that they should be feeling happy, happy,” says retired New York City Police Department social worker Rosado. “But many are not there yet. Those who are not hurting today will be hurting tomorrow.”

Martínez adds it’s important for people to always remember.

“I ask that the 49 people not be forgotten – ever.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Remembering Pulse Six Months Later

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. / Maria Padilla

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.

Embrace Difference

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

Election Season Heats Up

The election season is heating up as we close in on the August primaries and march toward the November election, which is less than three months away.

Campaign developments are coming fast and furious. Here are some local, state and national campaign notes that caught my eye.

Florida GOP Spokesman Resigns

Wadi Gaitan
Wadi Gaitán left the state GOP, taking issue with Donald Trump’s stand on immigration and other issues. / photo Wadi Gaitán-Twitter

Wadi Gaitán, communications director of the Florida Republican Party, left his post this week over differences of opinion with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He has joined the LIBRE Initiative, a Koch brothers-led effort to attract more Hispanics to the conservative cause.

It’s big news because it indicates the GOP daily defections from Trump occurring on the national level is giving permission – and cover – to state officials to do the same without major pushback from the Republican Party.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Gaitán said he “was avoiding efforts that support Trump.”

The LIBRE Initiative, Gaitán’s new employer, disagrees with Trump too, especially on immigration. Executive Director Dan Garza had a sharp exchange with party leaders on national public television over immigration during the Republican National Convention. LIBRE favors a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, among other policies. Trump does not, pushing instead for deportation and building a wall along the Mexican border.

Gaitán had been Florida GOP communications director since 2015.

Earlier this year, some Central Florida Hispanic Republicans complained to Orlando Latino that the state GOP had dismantled outreach to the Hispanic community. Gaitán’s resignation completes the circle.

Fellow blogger Evelyn Pérez Verdía of Political Pasión makes an excellent point: While the state Republican Party lost their Hispanic spokesperson, the Florida Democratic Party never hired one.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jennifer López Record Song for Somos Orlando

JLo and Lin-Manuel
Jennifer López and Lin-Manuel Miranda recorded the song “Love Make the World Go Round” to benefit Somos Orlando. /Lin-Manuel Miranda-Twitter

Somos Orlando, the ad hoc Latino group that popped up in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting to provide translation, mental health and other counseling services to survivors and victims’ families, is getting a boost from Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda and superstar Jennifer López.

“I have a treat for you at noon,” Miranda wrote on Facebook on the morning of July 4. “A taste of some new music you don’t need tickets to hear.”

On noon Tuesday the duo will release a behind-the-scenes video of the recording of the song, titled “Love Make the World Go Round.” Catch a preview here:  https://twitter.com/Lin_Manuel/status/749996290847670272/video/1

“Sooo @JLo & yours truly went in on a tune that will benefit [Somos Orlando] here’s a taste!” Miranda added about three hours later Monday on Facebook. This is Miranda’s last week as part of  the musical cast of the hit Hamilton, which broke Broadway show records with 16 Tony nominations, winning 11.

Proceeds from the song will benefit Somos Orlando, which is still in its infancy and is officially organizing to provide help to the Hispanic community on a long-term basis.  Somos Orlando logo

Nancy Rosado, a Somos Orlando founder, worries that Orlando leaders may be concerned only with the short-term effects of the shooting. As a retired New York City Police Department seargant who is also a social worker, Rosado provided counseling services to 1,200 police officers directly involved in the rescue efforts of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

She thinks a year or two or seven from now will be just as crucial to helping Pulse families thrive after the shooting.

“There is no timetable for this,” Rosado said, referring to the psychological trauma.

Rosado is one of five Latinas who came together almost like a flock of birds on June 12, the day of the Pulse shooting, to find out how they could help. Other Latinas include Zoe Colón of the Hispanic Federation, a New York based nonprofit that has a Central Florida office; Denisse Centeno Lamas, founder and executive director of Hispanic Family Counseling; Sami Haimán Marrero of Urbander, a marketing firm; Christina Hernández, a political and communications consultant.

They have volunteered hundreds of hours of their time to the Pulse families. The Hispanic Federation donated $10,000 in seed money to Somos Orlando and is administrating the fund. The Hispanic Federation received a 4 Star rating from Charity Navigator as of June 1, 2016.

Somos Orlando is holding a community meeting Tuesday, July 5, at 9:30 a.m. at Acacia Building (formerly Asociación Borinqueña) off Econlockhatchee Trail in east Orange County. The public is welcome.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor