June 12 will mark two years since an unbearable loss of life and the deadliest attack on LGBT people in American history. This Pulse anniversary is a somber one. Forty-nine people were killed by the shooter in Orlando, leaving a trauma in the queer community that remains intensely painful.
Adding to the senselessness of the killing, the motive of the killer remains contested to this day. Just prior to the attack, the shooter wrote Facebook posts expressing anger over American invasions in the Middle East. He also called 911 during the siege of the club and claimed that he sought retribution against America for airstrikes against terror groups abroad. Terror groups claimed that he represented their interests, though they offered no evidence of any prior connection.
Those who knew the shooter recalled that he harbored intense animosity towards anyone who was different, from women to Jews to queer people. Numerous witnesses claimed to have seen him in the club and on gay dating apps, with reports that he visited Pulse frequently.
But little evidence could be found to substantiate those claims. FBI investigators sought photos, texts, apps and geolocation data to indicate that he was gay but turned up nothing. Search data revealed that he had looked for “downtown Orlando nightclubs,” and traveled back and forth between Pulse and another venue before making his decision. A security guard reported the killer asked, moments before shooting, why there were no women present at the club.
Although mass shootings are commonplace in America, this was the worst to date. Most of the casualties occurred during the initial attack, with five more murdered during the hostage standoff. Forty four people were injured, and for some of them hospitalization lasted months.
While the true motivations of the shooter remain unknown, the impact was profound. Pride events dramatically increased security that year, and they continue to maintain large visible security presences to deter similar attacks.
In addition, the aftermath of the Pulse shooting saw a groundswell of support for the LGBT community, particularly in the immediate vicinity of Orlando. People lined up around the block to donate blood — though many were turned away, highlighting the country’s discriminatory policy that forbids gay men from giving blood. Nonprofits raised nearly $8 million to help the survivors and families of the victims, and a separate campaign disbursed over $23 million in support.
As the two-year Pulse anniversary approaches, the future of the site remains somewhat unresolved. At first the city planned to purchase the building and convert it into a memorial. A makeshift memorial was erected immediately after the shooting, with artwork decorating a fence enclosing the facility. As the months went on, plans shifted; the owner decided to keep the property and started a foundation to turn it into a museum. It’s currently scheduled to open in 2020.
Even Gov. Cuomo in New York City has unveiled the design for a public monument “honoring the LGBT community, those lost in the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting … and all victims of hate, intolerance and violence.” No word yet on when the NYC Pulse memorial will be completed.
For now the Pulse Nightclub building stands surrounded by a fence and an ever-shifting exhibit of artwork remembering the victims and hoping for peace. Calls for gun control have gone unheeded, however, and America remains the only country where such massacres remain commonplace.