Central PA's LGBT News Source
“Within a few weeks I knew I’d be doing something,” Barbara Poma said over the telephone.
That something is onePULSE Foundation.
Poma was the owner of Pulse, Orlando, Florida’s gay nightclub on June 12, 2016, when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a terrorist attack and hate crime inside the club.
Mateen was shot and killed by Orlando Police Department (OPD) officers after a three-hour standoff. Pulse was hosting a "Latin Night" and thus most of the victims were Latinx. It is the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the U.S., being surpassed the following year by the Las Vegas shooting. It remains the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in which the perpetrator did not commit suicide.
“Events like the Pulse massacre ‘you cannot prepare for’’’, Poma said in a medium-volume, resolute voice that sounded like someone who knew tragedy but decided not to succumb. She is a survivor.
“It’s been 20 months, a long time, from Los Angeles to New York City, other locations. Our original idea has evolved as we have travelled around the country,” she explained. “I’ve had a very positive reception everywhere. We’ve been doing fundraising, community events, educational programs, researching our ideas for the foundation.”
The foundation is in the process of establishing a memorial at the nightclub site. A museum is also underway, hopefully adjacent or nearby the site of the massacre.
“We also have a scholarship program we’re establishing that has a unique feature. In return for receiving the funds, recipients must have a plan to give back through community work,” Poma said. If successful, victims will have a scholarship named after each of them.
Scholarships will be further “personalized” to repent dashed aspirations and careers with the names of the victims.
“If a victim was or always wanted to be a fire fighter, we will have a fire fighter scholarship. Their lives were cut short so the scholarship will honor them by aspiration and name,” Poma explained. “There are hair salons and cosmetology schools coming on board soon, too,” Poma said. “We never want these people forgotten. They were children in families. They were loved by others.”
The foundation is also engaged in Community Town Halls, “although we re-arranged one when Parkland happened. We didn’t want to interfere, we wanted those students and families to have their space. We deferred,” Poma said.
“Grieving after the massacre was a human ebb and flow among the 49 sets of families, friends, lovers,” Poma says softly about her immediate contact as club owner after the tragic episode.
“All grieving is personal and unique and so is my involvement with survivors, some more than others, some not at all. I respect everyone as they cope,” she said.
“Contrary to what many people think, the foundation does not have a ‘list’ of contacts who are survivors or family and friends, no lists,” Poma said. “Our contact has been ‘organic’ not formal or programmatic,” she said.
Encouraging people to finish the work the foundation has started is paramount.
“We’ve started the foundation and we’re working on a memorial and museum. They need to be completed,” Poma said. “We need to preserve for after we are gone all the lessons learned from so many gun tragedies.” Her voice strong and direct, “These shootings shouldn’t happen anywhere. Not in schools, churches, concerts, or casinos. That’s enough,” Poma said.
Editor’s Note: With the recent acquittal of Noor Salman, wife of Pulse shooter Omar Mateen, a new narrative is shaping around why Mateen committed his ugly act. Anti-LGBT hatred does not figure into the new perspective on the case. This does not diminish the meaning of Pulse victims’ death or the calm, level-headed sincerity of Barbara Poma as she pursues her noble mission to properly remember the victims, regardless of the reasons their killer acted. It may mean the massacre was not a crime against LGBT people.
Salman’s prosecutors noted in their closing statement that Pulse was not Mateen’s first choice of target. His first choice was Disney Springs, a shopping and entertainment complex. Mateen, according to prosecutor’s evidence, chose Pulse about one hour before the attack and that it was not clear to them he knew it was a gay bar. He asked a security guard where all the women were.
Although the Pulse narrative is evolving, hate is hate, same as love is love.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that for 2016, 6,121 hate crime incidents were reported --an increase of 5% from 2015. Of the 6,121 incidents reported, 1,076 were based on sexual orientation bias and 124 were based on gender identity bias. These numbers reflect a 2% and a 9% increase, respectively. Of the 124 incidents based on gender identity, 19 targeted gender non-conforming people, a decrease of 54 percent from 2015. Yet, of those same 124 incidents,105 targeted transgender people, an increase of 44 percent from 2015. However, these numbers likely represent only a fraction of such cases, given that reporting hate crimes to the FBI is not mandatory.