It was known as a gay bar in Orlando that “always welcomed everyone with open arms.”
Now, Pulse nightclub will forever be known as the place where the worst mass shooting in the U.S. left at least 49 dead and dozens injured after a gunman opened fire Sunday.
For Long Island native Evan Legnerb, Pulse was a fun, safe place.
“It was comforting and welcoming to go there and enjoy the place,” 27-year-old Legnerb said. “There were no social expectations. It didn’t matter who you were when you walked through the door.”
Legnerb, who grew up in Wading River and has lived in Florida for about four years, had been to the club on a number of occasions.
“It really reached out to many walks of life,” said Legnerb, who is gay. "It’s a place that’s really comforting for a group that is often targeted through various forms of discrimination.”
Situated along downtown Orlando’s busy Orange Avenue that is dotted with restaurants, bars, apartments and other small businesses, Pulse has been a staple in the gay community for more than a decade.
“I can’t ever go back in there,” said Xiomara Rodriguez, 24, who is gay and went to Pulse regularly. “This attacked everyone. But it was more of an attack against gay people.”
Pulse was more than “just another gay club,” declared a 2015 post on the nightclub’s website, accessible through an Internet archiving site. The post says co-founders and owners, Barbara Poma and Ron Legler, opened the club in 2004 in memory of Poma’s brother John, who was gay and died in 1991 after a battle with HIV. They hoped the club would keep his memory alive, so they chose the name Pulse – for John’s heartbeat.
If Pulse was striving to promote love and equality, it succeeded in Rodriguez’s eyes.
“It was a loving place. That club was a place where love was appreciated. Even if you didn’t know anyone you made friends,” Rodriguez said. “You felt welcomed. It didn’t matter who you were.”
The night of the shooting happened to be Latin Night.
“As it is the LGBT community is marginalized and we have to face a lot of oppression ... that club is supposed to be a safe space,” said Laura Caicedo, 21, who is gay. “I know a lot of the victims’ names have been hispanic. And that is just another hit to the community.”
Currently, the nightclub’s website displays only this message from Poma:
“Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.”