How Orlando Healed Itself (Two Years Later)

Note: This is a submitted personal essay.

By: Jewell Reign

I remember the day I called home and told my mom that I thought I had something wrong with me psychologically because of my attraction to women and telling her I was bisexual. Even though it was 10 years ago, her response was one that will forever be burned into my soul, “I don’t care who you love: man, woman, purple, yellow or polka dot, as long as they treat you right.”

My first time in a gay club was at Barbarella in Austin, Texas — and one of the first times I truly felt at home, with people like me of every color. It would serve a safe haven for me and others in this community to go out and have a good time. For many friends, most bars and clubs aren’t safe to be ourselves, nor is home. Even though most places: schools, churches, movie theaters and concerts have now become risks, I never thought it would one day happen in a gay club.

On June 11, 2016, I flew into Orlando to make my dreams come true. I wanted to work for WWE, Chyna like myself had a different body type and she still rose up against the odds. My mother and I checked into the hotel late that night, and we left the T.V. on just for background noise as we slept. When reports first started coming in, we at first thought it was about Christina Grimmie, who had been murdered on stage just a few days prior, until we heard the words “breaking news”. We both looked across the beds at each other and then back at the T.V.. I watched the fear wash over my mother’s face when the reporter brought up that Pulse was a gay nightclub, any night of the week that could have been me in there. We sat on my bed and my mom held me; the numbers kept rising. I thought that day would be dark and grim, until I witnessed the city of Orlando and surrounding areas come together, those that could donate blood came out and on every block was a sign saying “Orlando Strong”. For my mother, that was confirmation, that no matter what came next, Orlando would be home for me.

Photo by Jewell Reign

My confirmation about Orlando came a few months later when I attended Coming Out With Pride, I felt the energy throughout the crowd that there was a lingering fear in the early parts of that morning as people set up their booths. It took me all morning to garner the courage to even go, so many doubts crossed mind. What would happen to us? Would there be a copycat, or worse? That fear slowly turned as we all experienced an outpouring of love throughout the day, as I witnessed a community heal itself. I didn’t know I could hug that many people in one day and cry on the shoulders of strangers. I listened as the chorus groups sing in the rainbow colored amphitheater at Lake Eola, and that was when I remembered that I could still be proud in my skin, and that there was a community for me.

Today marks two years since 49 victims were killed and 53 were injured at Pulse nightclub, and as I watch the news, I’ve seen the victims from the Pulse and Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting come together to rally for stricter gun regulations. Today is a true reminder that Pride meant we would stand together as all colors of the rainbow and not let discrimination and violence towards us win. We have a colorful history of changing the world like Marsha P. Johnson and Harvey Milk, and we’re not backing down, we will not let this tragedy sully what generations before us have worked so hard for. This month and future pride months to come, let us stand together because as columnist Cassandra Duffy once stated, “the beauty of standing up for your rights is others see you standing and stand up as well.”

About Jewell: Jewell is a self proclaimed hip-hop head that watches an unhealthy amount of Youtube. Born and raised in Austin, Texas she enjoys live music, barbecue and queso. She can be found in your area coffee shop or @JewellReign on IG/Twitter.

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