Each summer since 2017, the Orange County Regional History Center has created an exhibition for the annual remembrance of the Pulse nightclub shooting. This year’s, Community: Five Years After the Pulse Tragedy, has been crafted in effort to memorialize the victims and shine a light on the immense outpouring of love following the events of June 12, 2016.
With the concept of community as the underlying theme of the exhibition, it must be remembered that this word means many things to many people. We often imagine community to mean those closest to us geographically, the people we see at work or school or the grocery store. The sense of community in Orlando and the greater Central Florida region felt after Pulse is a vital component to this story, with residents coming together in an overwhelming show of support and unity. We explore what the club represented to our local community before the shooting and how its influence is still felt today.
But community can mean more than just where you live. The LGBTQ and Latinx communities were profoundly affected by the tragedy, as the majority of victims belonged to one or both of these groups. The close-knit community that surrounded Pulse nightclub itself was also forever changed, as both employees and patrons faced the loss of a cherished safe space in addition to grieving the death of loved ones. Other communities, too, would also feel the effects, both locally and globally. So many groups which intersect and relate to one another in beautiful and compelling ways.
The exhibit features material selected from the One Orlando Collection, which consists of over 12,500 physical artifacts, archives, photographs, and oral histories preserved by the History Center. Many of the items on display are those collected from memorial sites in the weeks and months following Pulse, the tangible representation of the local community’s response. Additional pieces have been obtained in the ensuing years, with global collecting efforts still active to this very day. Some of the items shown in the exhibit are on display for the very first time.
Though most who live in the area have vivid memories from the weekend of the Pulse shooting, much can change over the course of five years. Those who have recently moved to town, or children too young at the time (or perhaps not even born), may not yet have any strong connection to the tragedy. Additionally, those who remember far too well may only just now be able to revisit that time emotionally, having been absent for the various tributes and memorials in the years since. The History Center strives to preserve this story for these individuals, and for future generations, through projects like this one.
Community runs through August 15, 2021. The exhibition will have free admission from June 5-13 to ensure access for all individuals. The white memorial crosses will be on display only from June 11-13 We hope you will make the time to visit, as we come together once again as a community to mark the somber occasion and remember the lives of the 49 who are no longer with us.
By Jeremy Hileman, the One Orlando registrar at the Orange County Regional History Center.