One survivor of the Pulse shooting in Orlando wants to lead the nation in a day that celebrates resilience and offers time to reflect on hate crimes against LGBTQ people.
Christopher Hansen, who was inside Pulse on June 12, 2016 when shooting started in one of the worst mass murders in modern history, reached out to cities across the nation to establish June 11 as a day for "Reflections of Resilience."
Now an Arkansas resident, he's already won over some officials there. Joe Smith, mayor of North Little Rock, already declared June 11 as Reflections of Resilience Day, and the Junction Bridge there will be lit up in rainbow colors that day in remembrance of victims of hate crimes.
Hansen said he had a dream inspiring him to create a day, reached out to Smith's office, and was stunned how quickly the local proclamation came together. He also felt inspired that he got word the proclamation was final at 3:49 p.m., leading into the three-year anniversary of the deaths of 49 people in Orlando.
Hansen remains in talks with the city of Orlando, and a resolution is already in the works. He's also started conversations with people in Salem, Mass., and Akron, Ohio.
"It's legitimately focused on LGBTQ hate," sais Hansen, who announced his efforts exclusively to The Advocate.
He first organized an Arkansas-only event last year for the Pulse two-year anniversary. He had the Little Rock bridge lit up in remembrance of Pulse victims. He also got permission from famed songwriter Dianne Warren and Lady Gaga to create a special YouTube music video with pictures of everyone killed in the attack.
But now his ambitions have grown.
His goal is to make to Reflections of Resilience a national event. The timing, of course, is intentional. It comes before the three-year anniversary of Pulse shooting. Hansen didn't want to hold the event on June 12, a day set aside to remember the 49 innocent people killed at the Orlando tragedy.
But in speaking with a number of people within the Pulse community, he found enthusiasm for holding an event a day earlier.
Hansen himself knows the threat of hate too well. He grew up Wyoming when Matthew Shepard was murdered there. At a time, Hansen was coming into an awareness of his own sexuality, the news was a chilling reminder people existed, in his own community no less, who would do him harm for who he was.
"I was in Cheyenne at age 14," he said. "That puts an anchor in my life. I knew I was gay, and I suddenly thought, 'Wow, I could be killed for being gay.'"
Fast-forward to 2016 when Hansen, then a new resident of Orlando, visited a gay bar and ended the night crawling out of the club to avoid a hail of bullets.
Hansen's new efforts come as homophobic forces aim to erase the very existence of hate crimes. Amid revelations about the Jussie Smolett case, conservative commentator Ann Coulter charged that all hate crimes were hoaxes. And since the Pulse shooting first occurred, there have been efforts to question whether the shooting was a hoax entirely. There's been broad debate in mainstream media whether the attack was motivated by hate.
Hansen knows hate crimes do target LGBTQ people, and he doesn't want the day to just be about Pulse. He most feels for those who are still closeted and face violence but cannot even talk with loved ones about it.
Now, he's looking for another famed singer to record a new song for the national day. He's hoping to bring in more cities and even states to declare proclamations acknowledging June 11 as Reflections of Resilience Day.
Michael Pilato, the painter behind the Inspiration Orlando mural honoring Pulse victims, will add to the mural a reflection of a willow tree to the mural as a way of incorporating the Reflections of Resilience concept. The tree will have a branch representing every mass shooting in the country.
But most of all, he wanted a time when everybody who has been hurt or had loved ones stolen from them to know they are not alone.
"This is a family," he said. "We are not alone, and there are others of us out there." Hansen can be reached by email, Facebook and Instagram.