Three Years Since the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Three years ago, during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a gunman entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and mercilessly took the lives of 49 people who were gathered together enjoying a Latinx dance night at the beginning of Pride Month. Unlike many mass shootings, this one lasted for hours, while Police and SWAT teams decided how to proceed. People hid in bathrooms and behind bars but were slowly and methodically hunted down and killed. In the days and weeks following the shooting, LGBTQ communities from around the globe held vigils and grieved for the loss of 'brothers and sisters' who died in what was very much a place of refuge for the queer community. Religion has rarely been a friend to the LGBTQ community, at least from a historical perspective, and thus when LGBTQ people were turned away from their communities of faith and churches, mosques, or synagogues, many turned to local gay bars for community. These establishments were the places people turned to for solace, celebration, and community. Queer bars host drag shows, weddings, funerals, fundraisers, and educational events. Thus, for many, to have the Pulse shooting take place in what was considered to be a cornerstone of the community, the community's safe place of refuge, was perhaps one of the most challenging aspects.
To document the collective grief that LGBTQ individuals around the world felt in the wake of the Pulse Shooting, my colleague, Dr. Rhea Hoskin, and I launched an online survey. We collected responses from hundreds of people around the world until July 11, 2016. Dr. Hoskin and I converted the respondents' stories of how they had responded to the shooting into audio files, which we then listened to intently during the summer of 2016. Within these stories of grief, we isolated a number of common themes: grief, guilt , pride, resistance, resilience , closeting, racism , and violations of safe and sacred spaces.Karen Blair.Themes identified from our Pulse survey respondents. Source: Karen Blair.

In addition to extreme grief, people expressed feelings of guilt over experiencing so much grief for a loss that technically 'was not their own.' Yet, at the same time, many described the sense of loss as akin to having lost family members. One participant noted: "I feel as though I have lost 49 family members."Many felt as though it could have just as easily happened to them - perhaps they had been at the Pulse club recently, or perhaps they had been at their own local gay bar celebrating the launch of pride month that very night. This awareness that they could lose their lives simply for being a member of the LGBTQ community led some to avoid leaving the house for days or weeks following the shooting. If they did venture out, they described removing any visible markers of their identity . For example, one individual described removing all of their pride pins from their school bag, while another canceled their plans to come out to their friends and family that month.

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At the same time, themes of pride and resilience were also strong. One individual remarked "First it upset me, then it angered me. Now it has mobilized me." Many people found vigils to attend, indeed, some remarked that their first 'out' experience connecting with the LGBTQ community occurred in the days following the shooting when they attended a local vigil. Reaffirmations of pride and dedication to fighting for LGBTQ rights emerged loudly. Thus, although the most common response was to indicate that the shooting felt like a violation of personal safety, LGBTQ communities around the globe also showed clear signs of resilience. Another participant noted that: "We can grieve now, but we gotta stand up, look out for each others’ safety, as well as embrace and love one another."

For many, one of the hardest parts of coping with the aftermath of the Pulse shooting was watching the rest of their friends and family move on, as though it was "just another shooting." In my work studying people's responses to mass shootings, this is a common thread, no matter what group is targeted. The targeted group always feels left behind in their grief while the rest of the world moves on as though nothing happened. We live in a world that experiences far too many acts of mass violence, and thus to some extent it is understandable that we do not have the emotional capacity to grieve each and every tragedy. But while it may make psychological sense to protect ourselves when an event does not impact us personally, we must learn from Pulse that the reach of these events is far. Indeed, it is global, and our own desensitization may cause pain to someone we love.

Consequently, it is important that individuals outside of a targeted community make an effort to acknowledge the pain of those around them. After Pulse, LGBTQ individuals who had friends and family reach out to them in positive and sympathetic ways felt better and less alone. A young 19-year-old participant commented: "I feel horrible and wish somebody would have just asked me if I was okay. Nobody asked me if I was okay, and I'm really not okay, and I don't think I'm ever going to completely get over that."These sentiments were exacerbated for queer people of color following the Pulse shooting, many of whom felt that the racial identities of many of the victims were being erased from the mainstream narrative surrounding the shooting.

Of course, it goes without saying that the experiences of those around the world likely paled in comparison to those who lost actual loved ones during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, as well as those who were there, but survived and now carry with them the emotional and physical scars of belonging to the ever-growing group of mass shooting survivors. While it is but a small condolence, I hope that knowing that so many others around the world had them in their thoughts, and continue to hold them in their hearts, may bring them some degree of peace. While we celebrate pride this month and continue to advocate for LGBTQ rights around the globe, please join me in remembering the names of the 49 individuals who lost their lives at Pulse, as well as all who have lost their lives around the globe and throughout history simply for daring to be themselves and for loving who they love.

"Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude." -Ralph Walso Emerson

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old Amanda Alvear, 25 years old Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old Cory James Connell, 21 years old Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old Frank Hernandez, 27 years old Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old Kimberly Morris, 37 years old Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old Edward SotomayorJr., 34 years old Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old Jonathan Antonio CamuyVega, 24 years old Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Rhea Hoskin.Names of the 49 victims written in chalk on the wall of the 519 LGBTQ Community Centre in Toronto's Gay Village. Source: Rhea Hoskin.

If you’d like to read more about people’s responses to the Pulse shooting, you may do so here.