As we mark one year since the horrific massacre of 49 LGBTQI people and allies at Pulse, DignityUSA remembers the lives lost, sends loving prayers to their families, and to those survivors whose lives were forever changed, and gives thanks to all those who responded with courage and kindness in the aftermath. We recommit to being a place of sacred healing for those whose sense of belonging and safety was shaken by this targeting of our community. We rededicate ourselves to challenging those, especially leaders in our own Church, who fail to take responsibility for how judgemental, dehumanizing language, teachings and practice contribute to a climate where violence like this can occur.
Below are some remembrances of some of the victims, and some excerpts from DignityUSA’s witness on their behalf at the 2016 meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
As we remember the people who were murdered at the Pulse Nightclub one year ago, let’s take a few minutes to remember them and the lives that they lived.*
On his way to the Pulse nightclub, Stanley Almodovar III laughed and sang, posting to Snapchat while a friend drove. Amanda Alvear loved taking selfies. Oscar Aracena-Montero’s countenance brightened his English classroom each week. Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala loved his career and was known for his compassion. Army Captain Antonio Davon Brown of the U.S. Army Reserve was a “down to earth guy” and a “gentle soul” who always looked out for his friends. Darryl R. Burt II was celebrating the fact that he had recently earned a Master’s Degree. Jonathan Camuy moved to Florida to work for a Spanish TV network. Angel Luis Candelario-Padro was a member of the National Guard and a Zumba enthusiast. Omar Capo’s Snapchat video, taken about 12:30 a.m. in a dark club, captures Capo jumping around with friends to blaring, Latin music. Simon Carrillo and his partner had recently purchased their home.
As we honor these people’s memory and the memory of all LGBTQ people who have died as a result of violence, help us all feel safe and loved, as our lives unfold in accordance with God’s plan for each of us.
Luis Daniel Conde, 39, went to the same high school in Puerto Rico as Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez. They were partners and ran a beauty salon together. Both died at the Pulse Nightclub. Cory James Connell was a “family man through and through…and the sweetest kid ever.” Tevin Eugene Crosby was a dedicated business owner. Anthony Luis Laureano Disla loved to dance. Deonka Deidra Drayton, known as DD, was in the midst of what her father called a personal renaissance the morning her life ended. Leroy Valentin Fernandez was a natural performer. Mercedez Marisol Flores had reshaped herself over two years, shedding 180 pounds. Peter O. Gonalez-Cruz made everyone around him happy. Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, went to Pulse Night Club with his boyfriend, Christopher Andrew Leinonen. Both were killed at the Pulse Nightclub. Paul Terrell Henry loved his two children.
Let us remember these LGBT people and allies who were murdered in the largest mass murder in U.S. history.
Frankie Hernandez taught his kid sister how to walk in heels. Miguel Angel Honorato was a devoted husband and father who managed several restaurants in the Orlando area. Jimmy De Jesús was kind and generous with his time. Javier Jorge-Reyes had a quick smile, sass and energy. Jason Benjamin Josaphat was computer savvy, loved to work out and had an interest in photography. Eddie Justice’s last text was “Mommy I love you.” Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, was an outgoing native of Cuba. Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, worked, whose hometown was Huichapan, Mexico, was a housekeeping supervisor in the Orlando area. Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool was a mother of 11 children.
We pray that God’s light of his love will shine on all of these beautiful souls.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez love his dog and participated in dog shows. Kimberly “KJ” Morris had recently moved to Orlando to be closer to her grandmother. Akyra Murray was celebrating her graduation from West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia with a trip to Orlando. Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez flew to Orlando from his home in Puerto Rico to attend a Selena Gomez concert on Fridqay, and went dancing at Pulse on Saturday. Joel Rayon Paniagua loved to dance. Jean Carlos Mendez Perez met his longtime partner thanks to the fragrance Declaration by Cartier. Enrique L. Rios lived in New York, and was in Orlando celebrating a friend’s birthday. Eric Ortiz died days before his first wedding anniversary to his husband Ivan Dominguez. Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez recently bought his first house because he wanted his mom to live someplace nice. Xavier Emmanuel Serrano was a dancer entertained crowds throughout Florida.
We remember these wonderful, loving and talented people.
Christopher Sanfeliz, a 24-year-old Tampa bank employee, was remembered by a former classmate as “the most positive guy I’ve ever known.” Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan was married to race-car driver Juan Borges and a mother of two children. Edward Sotomayor Jr. was a well know figure in the gay travel industry. Shane Evan Tomlinson was a singer with the band Frequency. Martin Benitez Torres, 33, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was visiting family in Orlando. The last publicly posted photo on Luis Vilma’s Facebook profile shows a group of young people posing in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom with the caption “True friends who become family.” Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, was part of at least two families — his biological one and tight-knit group of friends he worked with at Walt Disney World.
The world lost many incredible LGBTQ and straight people one year ago at the Pulse nightclub. Family members, friends and coworkers lost loved ones. People all over the world grieved the loss of these people. Let us take a moment to remember, and to be inspired, by the lives of these 49 human beings.
Below are excerpts from remarks by Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke at a witness for the Pulse victims and murdered transgender people outside the 2018 US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Annual meeting:
In the early morning of June 12, 2016, a lone gunman began shooting the patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. This club was established as a haven and community space for the LGBTQI community by a Catholic woman to honor her gay brother who had died of AIDS. Those inside of Pulse were subjected to hours of terror, intense pain, and the horror of witnessing the murder of friends and lovers. The news reports and images were beyond imagination. In the still-dark Florida morning, police cars and ambulances ringed a nightclub in Orlando that served the LGBTQI community. Dozens were dead, many more injured, and it was said that cars in the parking lot had been rigged with bombs. As the day wore on, the numbers of wounded and dead climbed. By mid-afternoon, we knew that 49 patrons and the perpetrator had been killed, and 53 people were being treated in area hospitals. Most were young, Latin@ LGBTQI people.
In the hours and days following this unspeakable violence, Pope Francis, many Catholic bishops and our national bishops conference issued statements about the shooting. All condemned the violence and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. However, fewer than 10 out of nearly 300 bishops acknowledged that this horrific event targeted people who were LGBTQI. A handful. The worst mass shooting in modern US history occurred at a gay club, and the leaders of our Church failed to explicitly link this violence and the homophobia and transphobia so rampant in our society and in too many religious communities. They hid behind words like “innocent victims” and “tragic loss of life” – certainly true, but sinfully incomplete. One bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, did dare to link the shooting to teachings and statements by Catholic leaders. He said, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.” Very soon, he was soundly chastised by Bishop Wenski of Miami, his Metropolitan, for his comments….
We are here to remember and honor the lives of all of those lost to anti-LGBT violence. These are beloved children of God. They are daughters and sons of loving parents, siblings, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors to us all. They were Army veterans, students of literature, finance, health care, package delivery workers, artists, store managers, and bouncers. They had survived cancer, car accidents, addictions, and traumatic childhoods. One young woman was in Orlando to celebrate graduating third in her Philadelphia Catholic high school class, and being awarded a basketball scholarship that would have enabled her to attend a Catholic college. They are remembered as outgoing, energetic, passionate, loyal, and full of life. They had amazing gifts and talents of which the world is now deprived.
We honor them, not only is ensuring their names and their lives are not forgotten, but in recommitting ourselves, as people of deep and enduring faith, to ending all hatred and violence rooted in misunderstanding, ignorance, and inflammatory religious rhetoric. We will continue to remind the leaders of our Church that LGBTQI people and our families are numbered among the people of God, that we members of their flocks, and that we deserve and demand pastoral care and policies from our Church that respect our dignity, humanity, and the reality of our lives. They can start by naming us as LGBTQI people, using the names we use, and the terms that honor the communities with which we identify. Our bishops can talk with us, rather than about us. Our bishops must take a clear, unequivocal stand against any violence—physical, verbal, theological, emotional—directed towards LGBTQI people or our community. They must work with us and with our families to develop pastoral care programs and protocols that are appropriate and respectful. This is what we call for in the name of LGBTQI people whose lives have been lost to violence.
* We thank the reporters and editors of the Orlando Sentinel for their incredible efforts to make sure that we know the story of these peoples’ lives. The biographical details are based on their reporting.