At Another Orlando Gay Club, LGBT Community Mourns Shooting Victims

Jun 13, 2016
Originally published on June 14, 2016 1:46 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now let's return to Orlando where our co-host, Ari Shapiro, has been reporting since yesterday.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When I arrived here in Orlando, one of the first people I met was Carlos Guillermo Smith. He is gay and Latino, like many of those killed in the Pulse massacre. He grew up here in Orlando, and he's currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. Last night, he told me that this tragedy has already made the gay community here stronger. And he said they're not afraid.

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: Well, I can tell you right now that folks are flocking to the Parliament House, another famous gay club. There's probably a line out the door right now of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people and allies who are there right now in solidarity to send a message that we're not going to be beaten down or destroyed by this type of terror, by this type of violence.

SHAPIRO: I'm going to fact-check you and I'm going to go there right now.

SMITH: You should.

SHAPIRO: I'm going to see what the scene is.

SMITH: I'm telling you.

SHAPIRO: I'm just pulling up to Parliament House resort, and it is all lit up in rainbow colors. And there are also two police cars in front of it with flashing lights. And there's a sign that says we are Pulse - unbreakable. Parliament House is a sort of resort that includes a bunch of bars, a hotel, a swimming pool. It's been a center of Orlando queer nightlife for decades.

I meet two friends walking towards the club. They're both 24 years old, gay, Latino, wearing rainbow ribbons as a show of solidarity.

ARTURO YUGALDI: Arturo Yugaldi.

EDGAR GOMEZ: Edgar Gomez.

SHAPIRO: Why did you decide to come out tonight?

GOMEZ: I didn't want to be alone.

YUGALDI: Yeah, we spent most of the day terrified that everybody we loved had died.

SHAPIRO: Yugaldi says a drag queen whispered a bit of wisdom into his ear earlier in the evening.

YUGALDI: She said happiness is the ultimate rebellion. And I think that the man who hurt so many of our friends last night, his goal was to make us too scared to leave our houses and to make us feel like we were alone and like our community didn't exist. And just by being here, we're proving that that's wrong.

SHAPIRO: For these two, a glimmer of light started to shine through the despair when they heard that the Parliament House drag show would go on at 10 o'clock as scheduled.

YUGALDI: And I will be in the front row tipping a drag queen, having...

GOMEZ: ...Too much.

YUGALDI: Too much - far too much, more than I make - with my best friend, having an amazing time because no one can tell me to do otherwise.

SHAPIRO: Inside the club, every kind of LGBT person is here. There are drag queens, big leather bears, butch lesbians, trans people, all ages and races. Some are drinking and dancing. Others are hugging each other, crying, or just talking in quiet corners. Julius Ortiz is wandering around with a friend. The 21-year-old has the shell-shocked look of someone who has just walked off a battlefield.

JULIUS ORTIZ: Well, I haven't slept since last night because I was actually with my friend and...

SHAPIRO: ...You were at Pulse?

ORTIZ: I was at Pulse. It was actually 1:54 - he actually texted me, and I was asking him where he was at. He said he was at the bathroom. However, he was ready to go home.

SHAPIRO: Ortiz left the club a few minutes before 2 a.m. Then he started getting text messages from friends who were still there. They told him someone was firing a gun inside.

ORTIZ: Yeah, I pretty much stayed up all night trying to get a hold of my friends.

SHAPIRO: When day broke, he went to the LGBT center to volunteer. He left there and went to a bar, where he started to see victims' names on TV. One was the name of a good friend of his - Omar.

ORTIZ: I kind of assumed maybe it was someone else. So I was trying to text my friend, hopefully it was someone else.

SHAPIRO: It wasn't someone else. It was Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo. I asked Julius if there was something he would like people to know about his friend.

ORTIZ: Yeah, actually. When I was in a very hard situation with my dad - you know, I was staying with him and he kicked me out - he actually took me in for a little.

SHAPIRO: He took you in when your dad kicked you out of the house?

ORTIZ: Yes.

SHAPIRO: I'm so sorry. Are you OK? I mean, no, how could you possibly be? Do you want me to stop recording?

ORTIZ: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

I stop recording, but Julius doesn't stop talking. He says he hasn't told this story yet. He pulls out his phone and shows me the text messages he sent his friend all day. The messages get increasingly frantic without a reply, only stopping when he learned that his friend was dead. Omar was 20 years old.

At 10 p.m., as promised, Ms. Darcel Stevens takes the stage at Parliament House. She is a big black drag queen in a curve-hugging red dress and a blonde bouffant wig. She lip-synchs to a couple of songs while tears stream down faces in the audience. Darcel Stevens tells the crowd, you are brave and you are stronger than you think. We are going to get through it.

CORNISH: That's our co-host, Ari Shapiro, reporting from Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.