It’s been five years — half a decade — since the Pulse nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, and it still hurts. More than likely it always will.
On that night five years ago, a gunman opened fire on revelers at the LGBTQ+ nightclub’s Latin night and 49 lives were lost, mostly Latin and people of color. The city rallied around the survivors, their families and loved ones, and the LGBTQ+ community at large, demonstrating that, yes, sometimes love wins … or at least can stand a fighting chance.
In so many ways, Orlando is still reeling from the events of that night, like having the wind knocked out of you after a vicious punch to the stomach. For years.
Too many vibrant lives were lost, while they were out celebrating in a place where they felt safe and part of a family.
Too many had their lovers, parents, children and friends ripped away from them. Too many police officers, EMTs, nurses and doctors were permanently traumatized by what they saw that night. Too many community organizers, advocates and journalists still feel the post-traumatic stress of burying themselves in every detail of the tragedy, for weeks, months, years after that night.
In an age of infinite cynicism, the immediate outpouring of love, resources and community solidarity in the days following Pulse was a damn beautiful thing. We blink and see the long lines at blood banks and donation centers. We blink again and see volunteers wearing ethereal robes and angel wings to shield mourners from Westboro Baptist Church bigots.
And then it becomes difficult to blink because tears are welling up in our eyes.
Pulse would never reopen its doors after that night. It became a mourning site, a place to attempt to process grief communally, to leave gifts for and mementos of those taken from us, a place that would soon be covered in vivid memorial artwork, and eventually a place for people all around the county — Bill Clinton, Tyler Perry, Ricky Martin are a few of the more surreal names — to pay their respects. A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives recently designated the Pulse site a national memorial.
“Orlando swore as a community to never forget those we lost that night,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, who sponsored that bill. “Together we will open minds and hearts, we will make the Pulse memorial a national symbol of hope, love and change.”
Orlando as a city marks this Pulse anniversary as it does every year — with memorials and music and art and gatherings (possible again!) and quiet (or loud) reflection. Our governor seemingly marked the anniversary by hurtfully vetoing mental health funding for Pulse survivors provided by the LGBTQ+ Center here in Central Florida. He also vetoed funding that the Zebra Coalition would have used to convert an unused hotel into housing for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. That same week, a coalition of Orlando activists rallied at City Hall to protest DeSantis’ signing an anti-trans athlete bill into law.
One of the lessons of Pulse was to be ready to stand with the LGBTQ+ community in word and deed, and we must all be vigilant of those who intend to discriminate and do harm. The promises of solidarity made in 2016 have no expiration date.
We leave you with words from Pulse survivor Adrian López, spoken to the crowd gathered at the “Orlando Unido” vigil in front of the Dr. Phillips Center in the days following the shooting in June of 2016. These words stick with us now as much as they did then. Maybe more.
“My message to you is we can go on,” López said. “We are going to suffer, but in our hearts we still have the good memories they left. Together we are going to change the world.”