When Scottie Campbell moved to Orlando, Florida, 28 years ago, he found himself accepted into an LGBT community that was passionate and motivated, but … small. And disorganized.
“There was a Pride parade that went down the street two blocks, turned the corner, and then just stopped,” Campbell, a museum manager and writer, told Upworthy.
To say “things have changed” would be an understatement.
“Now we do our Pride parade in October around National Coming Out Day, and it’s this major event that people come from all over. They get tens of thousands of people. We take over the center of town.”
In the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting at Pulse nightclub — the worst in modern U.S. history — focus has properly shifted to the attack’s primary target: Orlando’s LGBT community.
What emerged from conversations with current and former residents is a portrait of a city that has embraced its LGBT community, and a community that is disinclined to judge and quick to embrace newcomers.
“If you’re a queer woman of color from a small town in Florida and you come to Orlando, there’s a place for you,” Erika Hansen, a recent University of Central Florida graduate, told Upworthy. “Myself and all of my friends have always felt that connection, and I think that’s why it’s so heartbreaking.”
Hansen, who moved to Orlando from a rural community two hours north of the city, credited Orlando’s LGBT community with helping her feel grounded from the moment she arrived.
“People were very accepting, and they didn’t care about what type of situation you came from.”
It’s a closeness that makes Sunday’s tragedy even more painful.
“Two of my friends perform in that club, so it’s just really easy to picture them there,” Greg Triggs, a performer and author who provides creative services to Disney Cruise Line, told Upworthy.
Triggs, who lived in Orlando from 1990 to 2003 and continues to work part time there, called it the “most generous [city he’s] ever been to.” He praised the local LGBT community for its inclusiveness, calling it vital to his personal and political growth.
“In Orlando, when I was coming up, a lot of us were there without our families,” he said, explaining that a lot of people still weren’t out to their relatives and found their family within the community.
“They’re open-minded, and giving, and successful about including everyone.”
Within Orlando’s LGBT community, he said, they “found the freedom to express themselves and become more community-based, and become more political, become more powerful in the acceptance that they found in that community.”
Many credit the owners of Pulse nightclub, where the attack took place, for fostering this sense of community.
“They’re open-minded, and giving, and successful about including everyone,” Sam Singhaus, a drag performer and host, told Upworthy.
Singhaus helped open Pulse 12 years ago and served as the club’s original entertainment coordinator. He praised Pulse’s founders for successfully establishing the club as a hub not just for dancing and drinking, but art and community as well.
“It made people feel good going in the door. It made everyone feel good and special.”
Despite the tragedy, many said they were inspired by how the community has rallied together in the aftermath.
“Everyone has been so uplifting, so encouraging,” Hansen said, hoping that the attack won’t change anyone’s opinion of the city.
“Orlando has given opportunity to a lot of people to find a place, to find a home, and us in the community don’t want just one event to mar that.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many in the LGBT community who call or have called Orlando home.
“I really did think I was going to move to Orlando for one year, save a lot of money, and then find my real home. And I stayed 13 years,” Triggs said.
He believes one of the city’s greatest assets is its singular ability to spread its ethic of inclusion and acceptance far and wide, even after such a horrible day.
“I think one of the cool things about Orlando’s community is that it’s made up by people who are from all over the country,” Triggs said.
“So you know if they decide to go home, if they don’t stay in Orlando, they take what they learned there, and it affects their communities. It’s an amazing community of people, and its reach is beyond Orlando.”