Orlando found its identity in the year after Pulse

June 4, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Memorials on a wall placed in the parking lot of Pulse nightclub at 1912 S. Orange Avenue in Orlando. Mandatory Credit: Tim Shortt/Florida Today via USA TODAY NETWORK
June 4, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Memorials on a wall placed in the parking lot of Pulse nightclub at 1912 S. Orange Avenue in Orlando. Mandatory Credit: Tim Shortt/Florida Today via USA TODAY NETWORK /

It has been a year since tragedy struck Orlando at Pulse Night Club. In that moment of sadness and the year after, the city found its identity and resolve.

A lot has happened in the last year for the City of Orlando.

Its profile as an international destination is only raised with each new attraction at the theme parks near town. But so too has the city’s profile thanks to major sporting events like the NFL Pro Bowl and WWE’s WrestleMania. That is all in addition to the normal array of bowl games, college football games, Orlando Magic games and Orlando City games.

The city saw Orlando City open its new stadium downtown to glowing reviews. Passion and civic pride has been ignited like never before. With a growing, diversifying economy and population, Orlando has never seen better times it would seem.

The last year for Orlando has been one of growth.

The last year for Orlando has also been one of mourning.

All these successes were perhaps inevitable for the city. They were all on the trajectory that was part of the vision of Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs and business leaders had for this city.

What they could not foresee was how their city would respond to tragedy. It was something nobody really wanted to see.

But in the early morning hours of June 12, a gunman opened fire at Pulse Night Club, a long running and popular gay nightclub just outside downtown Orlando. His hateful bullets killed 49 people that evening, the largest mass shooting in United States history but yet still just another in a long list of mass shootings that still trouble this country.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Orlando had long been a safe place for gay residents and the LGBTQ community. Disney has hosted Gay Days at its park since 1991 (at least according to Wikipedia), long before LGBT culture was viewed as mainstream or accepted. That made Orlando a the site welcomed to the community.

Orlando is also a diverse community — home to the second largest Puerto Rican population in the United States.

That Puerto Rican population became ever present at Orlando Magic games when the team acquired national hero Carlo Arroyo in a trade with the Detroit Pistons. Fans cheered when Arroyo, an otherwise nondescript NBA player, entered the game. The team’s merchandise stalls sold Arroyo jerseys in the familiar white and blue but with the Puerto Rican flag down the sides.

It was Latin Night at Pulse on June 11, 2016. The Orlando LatinX community was a target that evening too.

It all feels like another statistic until it happens to your community. This was an attack on the city and everything it represented. Those scars have not fully healed.

For someone outside both the LGBT and LatinX communities, the sorrow was real. But the pain was nowhere near as deep as the communities directly affected. The whole city mourned, trying to find meaning and solace in each other. That process may never end for those directly involved. For all Orlando residents, it has been a weight over everything — even all those successes and joys.

There really was no feeling after that day except sadness, with fits of frustration. the whole city was going through the five stages of mourning.

The city came together to grieve.

There was a vigil the following Monday on the lawn at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts. The city came together to mourn and show its strength in the face of this adversity. There was an amazing outpouring of love in all the grief and sadness. They did so at Lake Eola a few days later in even larger numbers. Everyone was there for each other.

The moment changed Orlando and revealed its true character.

The city found its identity. Or perhaps, better, that identity showed through in a way it never had before. The community was drawn closer. Its character was revealed.

Those public gatherings galvanized the city each time. It was a reminder of the love and acceptance in the city.

Each public gathering further healed those wounds and reminded all how the city could lean on each other to come together.

Orlando City hosted the first sports gathering. An online idea quickly spread to rainbow the stadium in honor of the LGBT community that felt under attack that evening. Representatives from all the Orlando sports teams, the Orlando and Orange County fire departments, police departments and emergency services.

It was a cathartic evening for the city. Things felt a little bit more normal. Slowly things were feeling normal.

When the Orlando Magic revisited the event for their memorial on opening night in October, the wound was still fairly fresh. Their ceremony proved to be emotional too. Time had not provided enough distance.

The two teams still have their permanent remembrance in their stadiums. The Orlando Magic and Amway Center have a permanent banner honoring the 49 victims of the Pulse attack. Orlando City and the Orlando City Stadium have set aside 49 seats colored in the rainbow colors emblematic of the LGBTQ community, a colorful reminder against the purple seats in the rest of the stadium.

The sting of that day one year ago will never quite go away. It is always going to be a reminder of humanity at its darkest.

The response and how the city came together and still comes together is a reminder of humanity at its greatest.

It should not take a tragedy to pull a city together. But tragedy certainly reveals its character. In the last year, Orlando has shown its true character.

Orlando has shown itself to be a welcoming and united place. A place that welcomes the world with open arms no matter who they are.

Next: Orlando comes together as it tries to move forward

This is Orlando.