On 25 June, I was sitting in the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, watching the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles perform an all-Spanish concert with Mano a Mano, Cuba’s first gay men’s chorus.
During one of the songs, my mind started to drift and I found myself counting the seats in the rows in front of me.
There were 25 seats in each row and I thought about what if someone walked in with a gun and shot every single person in those two rows?
Why such morbid thoughts? Because I was at a big gathering of mostly gay people and it had been less than two weeks since a heavily-armed gunman burst into Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and shot 49 people to death and injured 53 others.
I had spent those weeks writing countless stories for Gay Star News about the tragedies – the victims, the law enforcement developments, the tributes, the deep grief.
As a reporter, you don’t really think about your own emotions when you are in the thick of a big story and I had just dove in day after day and done the job.
But on this day, at this concert, it hit me and hit me hard.
I was a gay man, I go to gay clubs. For a long time they were the only place where I felt I could be openly gay and feel free and joyful about it instead of repressed and ashamed and afraid.
Tears fell from my eyes as the chorus continued to perform and I counted the seats over and over.
So many people – gone.
Today marks 50 days since the heinous act in Orlando took place and my summer has been spent in many more crowded gatherings filled with gay people.
I have sporadically had the same thoughts as I did at the concert that day.
Outfest security stepped up
Before movies at Outfest, the 11-day LGBT film festival in Los Angeles that I attended last month, I remember counting seats before a sold out screening of King Cobra, a drama set in the porn world starring James Franco.
Security was stepped up at the festival so Orlando was never far from your mind.
On opening night, I was standing by the red arrivals carpet at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA waiting for the celebrities to show up so I could snap some photos and a security guard spotted an unattended duffle bag near me.
He asked if it was mine then got on his walkie talkie and just as two of fellow guard arrived, a cameraman standing nearby claimed the bag and got a serious scolding.
Things were different indeed.
Loss of Innocence
When I think back to the evening of 11 June, it seems like such an innocent time. I was in West Hollywood at the LA Pride Festival listening to music and taking photos of people for a photo gallery I was going to post the next day for Gay Star News.
All was well and I even posed for a photo that I posted to my Facebook page stating: ‘I’m here, I’m queer. Are you used to it?’
It had been a wonderful evening and as I walked to my car, the last person I encountered was actor Wilson Cruz who I know and we greeted each other warmly. Got home to Silver Lake, edited the photos I had taken and drifted off to sleep.
Early the next morning, on 12 June, everything changed – everything.
I saw a post that Wilson had put on his Facebook page about a relative of his, Brenda Marquez McCool, being killed at Pulse.
Then saw the flood of stories and although the details were still sketchy and realized the magnitude of what had happened.
I quickly got dressed and hurried back to West Hollywood hours earlier than planned.
Joined other members of the press at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told us of a man being arrested in Santa Monica with guns, ammunition and explosives in his car who said he was on his way to West Hollywood for Pride.
What was happening?
I covered the press conference, was posting photos on social media then walked up and down the boulevard interviewing people about Orlando and the arrest in Santa Monica. Many people just seemed numb, some were scared, some defiant but all had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to be there.
The next day, I covered a huge rally at LA City Hall with thousands of people and Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance. There was heavy emotion on that night, shock and grief and people holding on to each other.
It would take weeks before I could even articulate how I was feeling, about how deeply impacted and rocked to my core I had felt since Orlando. After a few weeks – especially after the concert – I began talking to my gay friends about it and there was an instant understanding that went beyond what even our closest straight allies could understand.
God bless all of those lost in Orlando that night and their grieving families and best wishes to those who survived as they move forward with their lives.
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