ORLANDO, FLA. — Some couples came holding hands. Others were by themselves or with small groups of friends. And they passed under a flashy marquee advertising Latin night amenities and into one of Orlando’s LGBT nightclubs.
That members of Orlando’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their friends were going to a Hispanic-themed party was not remarkable.
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But the Latin beats were pulsing again, on Thursday night and into Friday morning, scarcely three miles west from where shooter Omar Mateen unleashed, a mere five nights earlier, a hail of bullets at a similar gay and Latino pride gathering — killing 49 and wounding more than 50 people out for a night of fun in what has been categorized as the worst mass shooting in the United States.
This party at the Parliament House was an act of defiance and a statement of resiliency for the LGBT community of Orlando, some partygoers said.
“We can’t let fear rule us,” said Sean Waterhouse, 36, an Orlando resident who said he gave “a lot of thought” on whether to attend the celebration at a time when he found it difficult to muster any joy.
“There are a lot of people who try to tell others that being gay or bi is horrible,” Waterhouse said. Such speech, he said, feeds the mentality of “a guy who hated himself so much that he took it out on the world.”
If gay people go on with their lives, “it shows that we won’t back down, because we are still who we are,” Waterhouse said.
The event was billed “UNIDOS,” Spanish for “United” to represent the coming together of Central Florida’s LGBT and Latino communities as victims, survivors and heroes in the massacre.
The party — whose proceeds were to be donated to employees of Pulse Orlando, the club that was attacked by Mateen — was hosted as a fundraiser by Parliament House, a nightclub and motel complex founded in 1975.
Parliament House has been a staple of the grittier section past railroad tracks on Orlando’s northwest side, and whose existence predated the recent emergence of more trendy gathering spots near downtown, like Pulse.
While the gathering was “very subdued” in comparison to the usual parties, Will Tremblay, 42, and Sarah Chipley, 21, were among those who felt compelled to attend, if just for a little while.
Chipley said she hoped the spirit of support and cooperation that has followed the killings remains alive, among gay and straight, among Latinos, among those affected and people from some churches who have cast a lot of judgment on the community, because many say they have come to realize that the people killed were “someone’s child, someone’s daughter and someone’s grandkid” who are deserving of compassion.
While Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse Orlando could not be reached, she has already expressed, in a television interview on NBC’s “Today” show, her intent to reopen the club and move forward.
The spirit of solidarity, and the determination that Orlando’s community is showing, has reverberated in LGBT communities elsewhere.
“Seeing the resiliency of the Orlando LGBT community sends a powerful message all the way up here to Long Island that acts like these are not going to send us back in the process” of seeking equality, said David Kilmnick, chief executive of the LGBT Network and its offices in Woodbury, Bay Shore and Sag Harbor on Long Island and Little Neck in Queens. “We are going to come out to more people and we are going to gain more allies and in the end we are going to win because love always wins.”
Lex Bermudez would agree.
The Orlando resident went to the party at Parliament House with two friends, even though a relative was one of those injured in the Pulse shooting.
He was heartened by the community’s embrace as he witnessed how people responded to the event. Scores of vehicles had filled the nightclub’s main lot and a spillover lot was almost occupied to capacity.
“The community lives on,” said Bermudez, 33. “We will not be terrorized by fear . . . We refuse to be put back in the closet.”
Bermudez and his friends went past two police officers guarding the entrance and blended into the crowd about 1 a.m. The walls were pulsing with the beat that they hope will never stop.