As the music pulsates and men kibitz in the pool while sipping from spill-proof vessels, joy, love and lust wafts in the humid air. It’s GayDays Orlando at the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, a property known for families, but this week it’s taken over by men in speedos. Across town at the B Resort and Spa, rival multi-day event One Magical Weekend attracts the even heartier circuit partiers.
The mood is a massive departure from the shock and horror in Orlando on June 12, 2016, when Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at Pulse night club.
The celebrations here demonstrate that members of the local LGBT community embrace life even with last year’s tragedy.
“There was a sense of camaraderie and coming together,” observes GayDays entertainment director Steve Erics on this year’s event compared to previous iterations. “Sure, we collectively remembered but it was also a celebration of life and a sense of how to we get to where we want to be.”
This year, the event included a variety act of local performers which benefited the OnePulse Foundation. Erics says five GayDays staff were killed in the shooting. Organizers increased security with additional police and security officers on the property and bag checks were performed before entry to pool parties. “We wanted to let people know that we know what is going on and we want to ensure everyone’s safety,” Erics says.
Throughout the local LGBT scene, the tragedy’s impact continues to be felt.
“Many, many people were affected by it,” says Dana Tetreault, food and beverage manager at Parliament House, a popular gay club in the city. “[The shooting] was a horrible tragedy that should not have happened. It has absolutely impacted business throughout the community.”
Raymond Burton owner of downtown neighbourhood gay bar Barcodes, agrees. “Business is not as busy as it was since the shooting but people are still coming out,” he says.“People aren’t as afraid as they were a year ago but I think more people are cautious and maybe choose and decide, ‘do I need to go out?’”
Since the shooting, Burton says that bar staff are vigilant about inspecting bags and monitoring security camera footage to ensure the safety of patrons. “We get a lot of customers very appreciative of the security checks because we are trying to make the environment safe,” he says. Burton, 54 and old openly gay, has undergone his own recovery from the tragedy. “I was in shock,” he says of the shooting. “We are all just like ‘Wow can this be happening?’” Burton says the shooting has changed him. “I live like every day is a little more important than it was. I don’t know if I will be gone tomorrow so I am not letting the little things bother me anymore. It’s not worth it.”
The lesson transcends into his staff’s approach to business at Barcodes. “We want to share the love and throw hate out the door. We are staying open and being strong and making the world work regardless of what has happened to us.”