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No Other City Needed Pride This Year More Than Orlando 

No Other City Needed Pride This Year More Than Orlando 


A mass shooting, a hurricane, and a frightening new administration called for the queer community to convene, commiserate, and plan ahead.

Orlando came together five months to the day after the Pulse shooting to celebrate the area's LGBT community at the annual Come Out With Pride event this past weekend. The tremendous loss cast a certain pall over the event, but attendees also said it proved critical in the lengthy healing process in central Florida.

"I feel like this is more important than any other year," said Kayalee Shimkoski, who drove to Orlando from West Palm Beach to attend. "Pride is usually a straight-up celebration, but this year I wanted to be here to take it all in."

With paradegoers waving angel figures marked with Pulse victims' names, immigration activists waving pictures of Latino victims, and placards reading "Love Knows No Borders," there was a looming specter of the Pulse attack, in which the shooter and 49 others were killed. Survivors of Pulse, named last week as The Advocate's Person of the Year, served as grand marshals, along with first responders and city leaders. "It was a time to bring everyone together and show so much love," said survivor Christopher Hansen.

Burning Questions

For those living here, questions still linger about the shooting. What were gunman Omar Mateen's motives? He claimed an allegiance to the Islamic State, but many claim they saw Mateen regularly at Pulse. "I honestly think the shooter was gay, that he had dated a Spanish person, and that's why we went to Latin night," says Kat Rodriguez, who marched in honor of fallen friend Stanley Almodovar.

But to many in town, the event remains defined as an act of terror. Patricia Hansell, who married Charmain Isaac at a previous Orlando Pride, said the Pulse shooting was a 9/11-type event that disproportionately impacted the LGBT community because of where it was, but was truly an attack on America. The larger number of straight allies attending Orlando Pride this week showed that most in town took the shooting personally. "People here viewed this as an attack on all of Orlando, really," Hansell said.

For Jeffrey Lurie, who has lived in Orlando since 1994, the question seems moot. "It sounds like there is not much to conclude about why he did it. It's really more a tragic occurrence that happened to be in our place," said Lurie, who came to Pride with husband Todd Ludington. Laurie noted that authorities have often countered theories about Mateen; the FBI has leaked that there was no evidence concluding the shooter was gay, for example.

Out Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan said most of Orlando considered Mateen a homophobe. Considering there have been reports that Mateen attended Gay Days at Walt Disney World and was seen at the gay bar Southern Nights shortly before the attack, she figures he most likely was studying the locales. But she noted that when the city stresses the attack as terrorism, the federal government responds with dollars to improve Orlando's security, a worthy end.

Sense of Safety?

In some ways, the recent election of Donald Trump flavored the event with political resistance atop the city's continued mournful resolve. Fred and Maria Wright, who lost son Jerald Wright in the shooting, made an appeal to get involved with the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Fred Wright said he feared the election results would make reasonable gun control an uphill climb. "I would feel much better if Hillary Clinton had been elected," he told The Advocate.

It's a sentiment widely shared among Orlando activists, who worry that a Republican Congress and hostile president will make gun control a nonstarter. But this community has learned in recent months that there's a time to dig in and continue the fight even when bad news comes.

The election also heightened security concerns at Pride. While no angry protests or counterprotests marked Saturday's events, a rise in open intolerance nationwide had many concerned about whether violence would arise at Pride this year. "I was a little bit concerned coming here," said Joey Tillery, who came from Gainesville along with partner Robbie Davis. "But we were showing our rights and that we are allowed to gather here without fear."

But with a heavy police presence and ultimately no aggressive protests, concerns quickly were assuaged. The Pride event likely will see record attendance once police release a final estimate. "This is probably the safest place you can be," Rodriguez said.

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