13 JUN 2017: Yesterday, a series of events across Orlando marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic Pulse shooting that killed 49 people and left the city and world in shock. Local governments named June 12th “Orlando United Day.”

Among the highlights of the day-long remembrances were the remarks by Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

“I miss Pulse,” said Poma at a morning ceremony. “I miss everything it stood for. I miss serving the LGBTQ+ community, our Latin community, in a way that only a gay bar can. I am grateful and comforted when I hear your memories and I see your pictures of the best times of your lives. It breaks my heart that your sanctuary was taken from you.”

Home to the Happiest Place on Earth (Walt Disney World), Orlando has a mature tourism industry. Despite the shooting, Visit Orlando, the official organization that represents the destination’s tourism industry, reported that 2016 attracted a record 68 million visitors, an increase of 2 million over 2015 figures.

“Orlando always has been an inclusive destination that welcomes everyone to make memories with those they love,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando.

“Orlando faced an unimaginable tragedy last year, and we have been overwhelmed by the incredible outpouring of support we received from people all over the world – visitors and the travel trade – for Orlando both as a community and as a cherished travel destination. Although we have a long history of embracing the LGBT community in particular, we were recently humbled when our friends at GayCities named Orlando the “City of the Year” in support of the destination.”

To support local LGBT businesses, Visit Orlando produces an online LGBT guide and pitches destination story ideas to world-wide LGBT media.

Despite the increase in visitors to Orlando, some LGBT businesses have not recovered to their pre-shooting performance.

“Many, many people were effected by it,” said Dana Tetrault, manager of Parliament House, a popular gay club in the city. “It was a horrible tragedy that should not have happened. It has absolutely impacted business throughout the community.”

“Business is not as busy as it was since the shooting but people are still coming out,” said Raymond Burton, owner of Barcodes, a gay bar.

“Business was leery in those first few days and weeks. People aren’t as afraid as they were a year ago but I think more people are cautious and maybe choose and decide ‘Do I need to go out?’”

But a drop in sales does not represent the full toll of the Pulse shooting. Barcodes opens at noon seven days a week and was one of the first local gay bars to open on June 12, 2016 just hours after the attack. Burton was nervous as he turned the key.

“I was a little uneasy coming into the bar but it was still a decision I had to make,” Burton said.

Like many locals struggling to make sense of the tragedy, Burton has undergone his own transformation. “I personally live every day as a little more important than it was,” he said. “I consider myself still young but we don’t know if we are going to be gone tomorrow so I am not letting the little things bother me anymore. It’s not worth it.”

Since the shooting, Burton says that bar staff are vigilant about inspecting bags and monitoring security camera footage to ensure the safety of patrons. The measure has fostered a sense of camaraderie. “We get a lot of customers very appreciative of the security checks because we are trying to make the environment safe,” he said.

Burton said he also had to help a bartender who, motivated by fear, requested to bring a weapon to work as a form of self defence. “He was extremely uneasy but we worked through it,” he said. “We want to share the love and throw hate out the door. We are staying open and being strong and making the world work regardless of what has happened to us.”

Though no gay bars have closed in the last year according to MBA Orlando, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, there have also been no new openings.

Last week, Gay Days Orlando – a five-day gathering of pool parties, theme park excursions and entertainment – concluded. Steve Erics, the event’s director of entertainment, admits that attendance was slower than previous years however is uncertain whether the drop was due to the rainy weather, apprehension from the Pulse shooting or other factors.

“People were concerned about the overall safety of the event,” Erics said. “We wanted to create a safe place and there was more a celebration of life, and sense of how do we get to where we need to get to.” Erics and his team stepped up security and police officers significantly and implemented bag checks at the pool parties.

“Nobody was frustrated by the bag checks,” Erics observed.

The efforts – including a fundraiser variety act – were personal for organizers. Erics says five former staff and performers were killed in the shooting. Erics has a profound sympathy for the family and friends of lost souls, the injured survivors of the attack and the first responders. “They are all still trying to figure out a way to heal.”

 

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