letter from the editor
On Thursday, June 9, NPR radio host Diane Rehm visited Orlando for an onstage talk with WMFE's Matthew Peddie. In the post-interview Q&A, an audience member asked Rehm who she thought was her best teacher, and she promptly replied, "Fred Rogers."
So perhaps it's not surprising that as shock escalated to total devastation in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, my thoughts turned to Mr. Rogers. He often told the story about his mother's advice when he was frightened by "scary things on the news" as a child: "'Always look for the helpers,' she'd tell me. 'There's always someone who is trying to help.' I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong."
On that terrible day in Orlando, our first responders and medical personnel did just that. Our local media – writers, TV reporters, photographers – began documenting and disseminating information, quelling panic and quashing rumors. And our friends and neighbors rose up to do anything they could for each other. Blood banks couldn't handle the influx of donors, who often sat for hours in the sun. Animal care experts and mental health professionals volunteered their time, as did bilingual residents, helping translate as needed for the friends and family of the largely Latino victims.
Like any rising city, Orlando wants its name to ring out, but not like this. To the millions of people who visit Orlando every year, we're supposed to be the happiest place on earth. To the millions who live here year-round, this is a place of stunning and fragile natural beauty that must be protected. And to the thousands who move here each year, Orlando is a place to come out. Not just as gay, though that is true for many because of the welcoming and thriving LGBT community, but as themselves. They come here to be surrounded by light and positivity, to write the stories of their lives, and 49 of those stories will never be fully written now.
Orlando is also a theater town, thanks to the thousands of performers who earn their living in the theme parks. So perhaps it's fitting that on Sunday night, as all of us were still reeling, theater genius Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke some of the most beautiful words to be spun out of this senseless tragedy. He sees us, he knows us, and in the last stanza of his sonnet for Orlando he honors our contributions while giving us our marching orders: "Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love. Cannot be killed or swept aside. ... We fill the world with music, love, and pride."
All of us must live up to this mandate now. We cannot allow a few minutes of violence to sweep us under the waves; we must stand up and continue to make art, to feel pride, to love.
– Jessica Bryce Young, editor, Orlando Weekly
letter from the publisher
I've struggled so much with what to write. There truly seems to be no words. I'm heartbroken. Devastated. I am just one member of the Orlando LGBT community, and there are so many tears, and they just keep coming. I cannot begin to imagine the pain felt by loved ones, friends and families of these innocent victims and the survivors for what they have all been through and what they will face in the days, weeks, even years to come.
When I moved here a dozen years ago, Pulse was a very impressive, brand-new club – a place I frequented, a place friends worked. And Orlando was a magical place. It was a place of festivals, fireworks, parades, palm trees, parks, an outright astounding number of lakes and lots of gay people. Lots and lots of gay people. Orlando was an open, accepting, diverse community, where gays could be gay, and not just in a "gayborhood" as in many cities, but anywhere and everywhere, from Lake Mary to Lake Buena Vista. I was no longer afraid to be who I am.
Today, a dozen years later, I am still here. I am part of this community. I am part of the festivals, the fireworks, the parades. I am one of its many, many gay citizens. When with my friends and family, I often pause to take in the beauty of the diversity, from Jordan, Lebanon, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil ... as a multi-generation American-born white man, I am often in the minority. How incredibly amazing it is to live in such a small city, with this melting pot of cultures. This is not normal for most cities our size. And why does it happen here? Because Orlando is truly magical. It attracts people from all over the world. They come. They visit. They stay. And that diversity makes us who we are.
So finally, on Tuesday morning, well after deadline and many failed attempts, I write through the haze of my tears. It is incomprehensible what has happened. So we will grieve. We will honor. We will never forget. But we must also heal and unite as one – one magical Orlando. We must show the world that though wounded, Orlando is not broken. We must continue to be the best Orlando we can be. Throw the biggest festivals. March in the most fabulous parades. Revel in our lakes, our parks, our attractions, our culture, and most of all, our people, these diverse people from all over the world that make this the City Beautiful. We must rise from this tragedy stronger, more open, more accepting, more diverse and more magical ... more Orlando than ever.
May the souls of those taken from us rest in peace, may the wounded heal, and may the people of this great city show the world who we are: one Orlando, a magical community of love and compassion, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
– Graham Jarrett, publisher, Orlando Weekly