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Angelica Sanchez, an Orlando-based drag performer, spent the wee hours of June 12, 2016 holed up in the Pulse Nightclub dressing room with a group of mostly strangers while a lone gunman shot and killed 49 people. Sanchez recalls those tense hours like they were yesterday. “A lot of prayer and trying to get everyone to put their phones on silence and be as quiet as we could be,” she says. “But also get information outside to let friends and family know what was going on [and] trying to see if any of my friends made it out. Not all of them did.”

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history shocked a nation and stunned Orlando’s tightly knit LGBTQ community. Support, in the form of blood drives, monetary donations, and heartfelt condolences and letters on social media and elsewhere, poured in from around the world, but the community’s wounds have proven difficult to heal. “When we go out, we’re constantly looking to see where the exit points are,” says Beverley Silvera, a Londoner turned Orlando resident. “[People] sort of maneuver to where there’s easy access to leave just in case.”

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Orlando Pride, which happened in October and just four short months after the massacre, provided an initial snapshot of a community in mourning. “It was hard to sort of be in that spirit but I think they pulled it off,” says Silvera. “They had a good cry and we just continued to celebrate.” Sanchez agrees. “It was sad, but also healing, also uplifting,” she says.

Coinciding with the one-year-anniversary of the attacks is Pride Month (celebrated nationwide) and also two hotly anticipated annual and local LGBTQ events—Gay Days at Walt Disney World and Orlando Black Pride. The former is the longtime (but still unofficial) gathering of the queer community at the Disney Theme Parks in which participants barnstorm the parks over the course of a long weekend that also includes pool and after hours parties, an expo, leather and fetish events and the crowning of Miss Gay Days. More than 50,000 attend annually and a portion of proceeds will benefit the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit established by the owners of Pulse Nightclub with the intended construction and operation of a memorial and museum, plus community grants and educational scholarships.


Happening perfectly in tandem with Gay Days (many folks attend both events) is Orlando Black Pride (OBP), a gathering that has taken place annually since 2002 and whose initial goal was to fill a community void. “Events that included the African LGBT community just didn’t exist,” says OBP founder Tricia Duncan. “It was frustrating. I just said, ‘hey let’s create our own event and invite others to come and see what Black Pride is about,’ and that’s really how it got started.” The long weekend includes a welcome reception, a slammin’ pool party, several nightclub events (including a benefit for onePULSE) that bring in DJs from across the country and last into the wee hours and a schmoozy networking event for LGBTQ professionals. Rooms at host hotel Wyndham International have already sold out. “Every year it gets bigger and better,” says Silvera.

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But OBP 2017 will be of particular import this year given Pulse Nightclub’s reputation in Orlando’s black and Latino queer communities (the club was celebrated for its Latin-themed nights and R&B and house music nights). As OBP fans prepare to party like it’s nobody’s business, Duncan and her co-organizers are aiming to strike just the right balance.

“We want to be mindful of those individuals whose lives were taken and the ones who were injured physically and emotionally as well,” says Duncan. “For us it was an opportunity to look at it and say, ‘okay, how are we going to present ourselves this year?’ For many people this is the first time they’re actually stepping outside and kind of getting back into the club scene a little bit. This is baby steps for some.”

Sanchez, who will perform at OBP’s opening night party says the energy will be hopeful but also contemplative. “Think about the love that was in the building that night and celebrate that,” she says. “Don’t forget… but also be conscious that you’re able to do this.”

Additionally, the Pulse Nightclub shootings are a somber reminder that Pride events like OBP and Gay Days, are still needed—some would say now more than ever.

“It would be like taking away Christmas,” says Silvera. “There has to be a celebration of love for people who are often killed for their affiliation to who they are. The LGBTQ community needs a voice and wherever they can get that voice is wonderful.”

Sanchez agrees. “Freedom isn’t free,” she says. “There’s always somebody paying for it so you want to honor them.”

Orlando Black Pride and Gay Days both happen May 31 through June 4.

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