Latanya Porter was on her way home from a gig at Flirt when her phone started blowing up. A gunman had shot and killed 49 people at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub about 14 miles east on the 408 from where Porter had just performed. She immediately began calling other entertainers, family, and friends, desperately trying to find out what was going on.
"Disbelief is one way to describe it," Porter, who identifies as a lesbian and regularly performs at Pulse and other venues under stage name Notorious BLACK, told me when asked how she was coping fewer than 48 hours after the attack. "A living nightmare would be another. We are trying desperately to grasp what has happened, but the grip is nowhere in sight."
With the temporary closure of Pulse nightclub, many queer and trans people in Orlando have lost something. Some have lost a safe haven to explore their newly embraced identities. Others have lost a place of solidarity for when the mental, emotional, spiritual, and often physical toll of living authentically becomes more than they can handle on their own. This promise of safety, security, and sanctuary is important—exponentially more so for queer and trans Latinxs and people of color, like the 49 victims and 53 injured people who hit up Pulse's trans talent-headlined "Latin Night" event on Saturday. That promise has been violently broken, and the loss has rippled outward to LGBTQ people worldwide.
But there is another group of queer and trans people who have lost something in this mass act of homophobic, transphobic, racist, and misogynistic violence: the people who work at Pulse. If LGBTQ bars and clubs are the hearts of their communities, then the bartenders, bar-backs, bouncers, drag queens, drag kings, coat checkers, promoters, managers, and owners are the lifeblood that keeps those organs pumping.
In the wake of the shooting, some of those workers find themselves without a steady paycheck. Others find themselves without a creative escape from their less glamorous nine-to-fives. Save for Facebook and other forms of social media, all of them have lost a reliable means of checking in on their newfound queer family, whose numbers grew with every shift. Thankfully, their extended queer families at neighboring bars and nightclubs are lending a helping hand.
"[Pulse] was the first club I went to when I moved to Orlando last year," Jason Campbell said. "It was a refuge. A place where I could be myself and express my individuality fully. It was where I got my first cast position as a performer and met my brothers and sisters I love so dearly. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Campbell, who performs in drag as Jaymie Kole Panic, is a self-described "deliriously cheerful, fun-loving weirdo" who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary of living in Orlando. He frequently performed at Pulse, which he considered a "home away from home." But he was just as likely to be found offstage among the patrons, supporting his friends' shows.
The 22-year-old, who identifies as a gay man, said that he had planned to be at Pulse on Saturday, but decided to stay in that night, as he hadn't been feeling well. Hours later, his rest was cut short by a series of notifications on his phone.
"About 3:30 or so [in the morning], my Facebook [began] blowing up with messages and calls from people, asking if I was OK," Campbell said. "I open my Facebook up, and the first words I saw were absolutely bone-chilling. The status from the Pulse page urging people to get out and keep running. Immediately, I was messaging people and refreshing and scrolling through to find out what I could about who was safe and what was happening… I knew many of the victims, and sadly never had the chance to get to know them more than when they were at the club."
While Porter and Campbell have lost a performance venue that regularly books them, they at least have other bars and clubs to turn to in the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. Many Pulse employees have lost their entire livelihoods in the shooting. As a means of easing the financial burden of this sudden loss of employment, a number of Orlando's other LGBTQ bars and nightclubs have pitched in to raise money for the unexpectedly jobless workers.
Southern Nights hosted a fundraising event Wednesday night, donating 100% of their proceeds to the displaced Pulse staff members—who declined to comment, via a rep, as they remain traumatized by the events of this past weekend—as did (straight bar) The Hammered Lamb.
Stonewall on West Church Street also raised funds Wednesday night. Scott Daniels, Stonewall's head bartender, said that the establishment also plans to set up a GoFundMe for the "wonderful" 4-year-old son of their former employee, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, who was killed in the shooting at Pulse.
Parliament House will be accepting donations for Pulse employees Thursday night, along with waiving their cover, and Club Revere at the M will be hosting a benefit for displaced Pulse staff on Saturday. The owners of Hank's and BarCodes are said to be in the process of finalizing plans for their own fundraising efforts.
From the D.I.Y fire hazard to the strobe-lit mega-club and every rainbow flag-bearing neighborhood bar in between, the institutions of queer and trans nightlife are needed, necessary, and important—especially in times of crisis like the Pulse shooting and its aftermath. Fuck what you heard from USA Today. It is a good idea to keep these venues open.
"We need the bars and clubs," Jason Campbell said. "We need to have that one place we can go to let our freak flag fly and be who we want with no judgment or criticism. It's our home, our passion, our place of peace. Without it, we would, in my honest opinion, not have accomplished most of the feats you see today [with regards to LGBTQ civil rights]. We needed these places to inspire us and better us so we could march forth and take charge of our happiness."
The pooling of resources to help those in need makes the idea of a single, unified "LGBTQ community" feel less like a rhetorical device than usual, as if we actually do have an extended network ready to aid our more vulnerable members, like the displaced Pulse employees. This action also recognizes a degree of loss not found in national media narratives about the shooting, the overwhelming majority of which seem more concerned with discussing ISIS theories and Donald Trump than the actual queer and trans people of color and their friends and loved ones who were harmed by this violence. Hopefully, these fundraising efforts will blossom over the coming weeks—in Orlando and beyond.
"We're…in shock, but despite that we are unified!" Latanya Porter said. "Wherever we gather at, we are determined to live our lives, stand up for ourselves and for each other, and stand on a faith that can't be broken no matter how hard some of society's members may try to break us!"
"We are, to say the least, resilient," she added.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.