In Philadelphia on the morning of Sunday, June 12, rising College senior Alec Josiah couldn’t sleep.
He woke up at 7 a.m., and then tried to go back to sleep. He woke up again at 8 a.m. Then he checked Facebook. The first thing he saw was a video about a shooting in Orlando, where he has lived for 16 years.
“I was thinking that it was the previous one, which was Christina Grimmie’s the night before,” he said. “Then it said at nightclub Pulse, Orlando, which was just the most jarring thing that could have happened.”
Pulse was where Josiah had been two weekends ago when he’d gone home for a visit. It was where he’d met friends and hung out regularly for two years before coming to Penn.
Now, it was where the largest mass shooting in American history had taken place.
Without even having time to process the information, he headed out to Philly Pride with his friends, which was happening the same weekend — “ironically,” as he put it. In the morning when he checked Facebook, the death toll had been 10. By the time he got back in the evening, it had risen to 49.
“I just started watching the news and everything, just bawling,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what had happened, and just watching everything, it was just so surreal. It was that same image of the club, that same street that so many times I’d pulled up to, brought friends to and hung out with such good friends that I’d met.”
Rising Engineering junior Nour Hussein woke up that morning in Orlando. She also checked Facebook — where she was immediately prompted to check in with her friends and family to let them know she was okay — a new feature that Facebook has used in incidences like the Paris attacks.
“It was really creepy,” she said. Hussein walked out of her bedroom and saw that her parents had the news on.
“That’s when I found out,” she said. “It was really shocking. It was something I never expected to happen in Orlando, honestly.”
Hussein, who has lived in the city for two years now, said she feels like everyone there seems “friendly,” which is why it was so hard for her to believe.
Rising Wharton senior Marlaine Erhart found out about the shooting the night it happened, when she was out and about in the Gayborhood in Philadelphia. If she’d been home in Orlando instead, she could very well have been at Pulse.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that somewhere anyone our age could have been — a lot of people are saying it’s somewhere where you think you’re safe and can be yourself — even there, everyone’s vulnerable.”
Rising College senior Devan Spear also grew up in Orlando. She also came out as gay there. For her, Pulse is an important symbol.
“Gay visibility in Orlando was something that was particularly important and significant to me,” she said. “Pulse was really close to my high school, where I often felt sort of alienated before I was coming out and when I was coming out. I think that Pulse kind of represented some part of that visibility to me in my home town.”
Spear said even though her parents especially are scared and worried, the response from the community has been heartening.
“I think that ten years ago the response would not have been the same as it is now,” she said. “The response has been almost largely a response of support from Orlando, and around the country, and it’s interesting to see all the support in my hometown where I didn’t always feel supported as gay.”
Josiah, too, acknowledges that the tragedy has given the LGBTQ community a chance to become stronger together, but he resents some of the politicization that has occurred. Specifically, he finds the overwhelming emphasis on terrorism doesn’t give it the incident its proper weight.
“Yes, it was terrorism, but it was also a hate crime,” he said. “There’s a reason a gay club, there’s a reason why the LGBT community was targeted. To diminish that is so disrespectful, [it] kind of erases the memory of the people who died there.”
Erhart is more willing to recognize the terrorism link, but makes the point that LGBTQ individuals are most on edge right now.
“For the country, I think especially with that LA Pride attempted shooting and New York Pride coming up in a couple weeks, a lot of people I’ve talked to are a little bit wary to go out in public in such a public area and celebrate something that another religion or another country is very intolerant of,” she said.
But she and Josiah don’t plan to stop going out any time soon, or being who they are publicly.
“Being at Pride it was in the back of my mind, like what if something happens?” Josiah said. “Being at the vigil it was in the back of my mind, what if something were to happen here, what would I do? But I’ve always had the idea that I’m not going to let them win by being afraid, by changing my actions.”
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