Orlando nightclub Pulse, now the site of the worst mass shooting in US history, has always described itself as “not just another gay club.” Long a focal point for the Florida city’s LGBT community, it was founded in 2004 by owner Barbara Poma and her friend Ron Legler, in honour of Ms Poma’s late brother John, who died from AIDS in 1991.
It was John who first introduced his younger sister to the Sunshine State’s vibrant gay club scene when she was a 14-year-old in Fort Lauderdale. The siblings were raised in a “strict Italian family,” the Pulse website explains. But, “when John came out to his family and friends, the family dynamic transitioned from a culture of strict tradition to one of acceptance and love.”
The club was named Pulse to refer to John’s heartbeat, as a place “where he is kept alive in the eyes of his friends and family.” In a statement, Ms Poma said she was “devastated” by the attack. “From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,” she said.
“I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones.”
Co-founder Mr Legler, who is the President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Centre in Baltimore, posted a message on Facebook, saying he was “devastated and heartbroken.”
The club hosts nightly performances including drag shows and karaoke, as well as engaging in education and advocacy efforts. According to the Washington Post, it serves “as a community hub for HIV prevention, breast-cancer awareness and immigrant rights.”
Before the weekend’s attacks, the Orlando Weekly described Pulse as “glitzy” and “throbbing”, saying: “Every night has something different in store, but Pulse is known to have some pretty impressive drag shows, and the bar’s dancers are usually gorgeous.”
In an essay for Fusion, Pulse regular Daniel Leon-Davis wrote that he had grown up gay, 10 minutes’ drive from the club. “The first time I ever entered Pulse, everything changed. For the first time in my life, I saw people that looked like me living freely. I saw people in their joy. I saw people in their celebration of life,” he wrote.
“Pulse was where I learned to love myself as a gay man. Pulse was where I learned to love my community... Pulse was not just my safe haven, but a safe haven for hundreds of LGBTQ individuals in Orlando.”
On Saturday, the night of the attack, Pulse hosted a Latin-themed drag show, where Puerto Rican drag queen Kenya Michaels was due to appear. She escaped the bloodshed, as did Angelica Jones, a regular performer at the club, who posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, saying: “God's good. I made it out safe. Thank you for your prayers."
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