PLEASE BE AWARE THIS ARTICLE MENTIONS GUN VIOLENCE AND CONTAINS SOME DETAIL OF SURVIVOR TESTIMONIES.
The Pulse Shooting
The 12th of June 2016 is a date firmly fixed in the LGBTQAI communities minds as unforgettable and tragic. On this night at 2am, Omar Mateen, a 29 year old male, armed himself and opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring many others. At the time of the shooting, Pulse was hosting their Latin night and there were over 300 people in attendance. According to a phone call to 911 that Mateen made once he’d began shooting, he had recently pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State and had chosen this course of action in retaliation to US intervention in Iraq and Syria. After initial shooting and a hostage situation within the club’s bathrooms wrestling in a 3 hour long standoff, Mateen was shot and killed by police and the emergency services began to attend to the wounded and the dead.
This shooting was the deadliest attack against the LGBTQAI community in the United States. The public response to the tragedy was massive and one of united grief and loss.
Several survivors, although traumatised by the events, spoke out in the coming days about their ordeal in a bid to humanise the tragedy and to solidify the impact that such actions can have on people. Ray Rivera was one of those survivors. In an interview with NPR, Rivera, who had been the DJ that night, described the scene, stating, ‘just, all hell broke loose, people running for the door, jumping gover the gates.’ Rivera took cover behind his booth and managed to shield two other people before leading them to safety.
Angel Colon, another survivor of the attack, spoke of his experience at a press conference at the Orlando Regional Medical Centre, describing how once Mateen had begun shooting he and his friends tried to flee, but he was shot three times. He describes a horrific scene of panic as people ‘trampled’ him as they tried to escape with their lives. At one point, Colon describes his fear, stating, “I could just see him shooting at everyone and I can hear the [shots getting] closer, and I look over and he shoots the girl next to me,” he said. “And I’m just there laying down and I’m thinking, ‘I’m next. I’m dead.'”
These accounts are difficult to read, but it’s important that we understand the level of trauma and hurt caused in this situation in order to help to prevent it from happening again.
In addition to the survivors telling their stories, the Mayor of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, stated in a tweet hours after the attack that, ‘We are dealing with something we never imagined.” He later followed this with an additional tweet, stating, ‘We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater. We will be defined by how we respond, how we treat each other.’ This seems to be a sentiment that was shared by many as vigils were held, not just in Orlando, but all around the US and indeed the world. Florida’s governor even placed state flags for each of those killed in the tragedy on the lawn of Florida’s State Capitol Building in Tallahassee in their memory.
In 2021 on the 5 year anniversary of the tragedy, Joe Biden, the US President, designated the nightclub site a national memorial site, dubbing it, ‘hallowed ground.’ At the signing ceremony, Biden paid tribute to those who lost their lives while calling for gun reform, stating, ‘we’ll never fully recover from it, but we’ll remember.’ The memorial site will include a museum, reflecting pool, and an education centre. The survivors and the victims’ families were at the White House for the event, which was held at the end of Pride month, giving the word ‘Pride’ extra weight and meaning.
Superfruit and Rise
Superfruit is a duo made up of Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi, who are best known for being members of the acapella group Pentatonix. They have many videos uploaded to their Youtube channel, which range from comedy skits, talking about everything and anything, and singing. Their songs have a few originals in there, but are mostly covers, medleys, and collaborations. They’re loved for their down-to-earth and easy banter and astounding singing voices, and fans watch each video down to the last second as there are often bloopers at the end of each upload.
While Mitch is openly gay, Scott prefers not to label his sexuality, although he has had several relationships with men and has held a ‘LGBTQ+ sign in terms of his identity in the music video for the Pentatonix cover of Imagine by John Lennon. Their sexuality wouldn’t usually be something to comment upon, but it’s their ties to the LGBTQAI community that caused both Mitch and Scott to have a deep response to the Pulse Club Shooting, prompting them to contact some fellow LGBTQAI friends in the industry in order to collaborate on their own response to the tragedy.
Two months after the shooting, Mitch and Scott uploaded a cover of Katy Perry’s Rise (which had only been released a month prior) in collaboration with Brian Justin Crum, Mario Jose, and Mary Lambert. The song can be found at the following link: RISE (Katy Perry Cover) by SUPERFRUIT, Mary Lambert, Brian Justin Crum, Mario Jose – YouTube
Out Magazine writer Michael Lambart drew attention to the Superfruit tribute, stating that Scott and Mitch ‘brought out the star power.’ This was certainly true, considering the vocal talent of those who accompanied them on the cover. Below the video, the artists included the following heartfelt message:
‘As music artists we are given an incredible platform with which to reach the world. One of the most inspiring and rewarding aspects of our job is the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. In keeping with the spirit of why we pursued our dreams as music artists, and the positive impact we aspired to have on others, we decided to make this video with some of our closest friends in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and all of our fans who love unconditionally and see no barriers. For anyone who has ever felt pride in who they are, and for anyone who has ever doubted the power of your own uniqueness, this video is for you. It warms our hearts to finally be able to share this with you!! xoxo Scott, Mitch, Mary, Mario, Brian.’
The song starts with one quiet voice without any accompaniment and ends in the same way, with the singers swelling together in the body of the song and breaking free of the choral bubble for alternate solo lines as the song progresses. This has the effect of one voice speaking out bravely against prejudice and for who they are and want to be. Then, when the artists all sing together, there’s a feeling of protection, confidence, and strength, that together they can stand up for what’s right and make positive changes.
The video shows the singers in front of a dark background with nothing else to distract the viewer from the song. This was an interesting choice as sometimes this move can backfire and cause viewers to lose interest. However, in this case, when matched with the simple but powerful vocal arrangement, this draws attention to the poignancy of the lyrics, giving each line the focus and intensity it deserves.
When you watch the video and then read the note left by the artists, it changes an already emotional performance into one that’s incredibly impactful and moving. No Stunts reached out to readers from the LGBTQAI community and asked them to react to the video, and all of the responses were highly positive and emotional. One reader stated:
‘I am quite familiar with superfruit as I follow Scott Hoying/Pentatonix. The music video made me think of how brave and strong we are as a community because no matter how hard someone tries to bring us down, we all as a team come together to get back up again. The part of the song which stands out the most to me is the first verse:
I won’t just survive,
Oh you will see me thrive.
Can’t write my story,
I’m beyond the archetype. I feel sadness for those who lost their lives in the shooting and pain for the family and friends who lost their loved ones.’
The artists dedicated this cover to the ‘celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and all of our fans who love unconditionally and see no barriers…anyone who has ever felt pride in who they are, and for anyone who has ever doubted the power of your own uniqueness.’ This is a powerful sentiment and, when taken in the context of a response to the Pulse Club Shooting, packs a solid emotional punch. I would urge anyone who hasn’t already watched this video to do so, while keeping the victims of the tragedy in mind.
It’s through moving tributes such as this cover and the memorial site and the constant education of ourself and each other that tragedies such as this will be prevented. The list of those who lost their lives in this attack are listed below, may they never be forgotten.
- Stanley Almodovar III, 23
- Amanda Alvear, 25
- Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
- Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
- Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
- Martin Benitez Torres, 33
- Antonio D. Brown, 30
- Darryl R. Burt II, 29
- Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24
- Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
- Simon A. Carrillo Fernandez, 31
- Juan Chavez-Martinez, 25
- Luis D. Conde, 39
- Cory J. Connell, 21
- Tevin E. Crosby, 25
- Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez, 50
- Deonka D. Drayton, 32
- Mercedez M. Flores, 26
- Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
- Juan R. Guerrero, 22
- Paul T. Henry, 41
- Frank Hernandez, 27
- Miguel A. Honorato, 30
- Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
- Jason B. Josaphat, 19
- Eddie J. Justice, 30
- Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25
- Christopher A. Leinonen, 32
- Brenda L. Marquez McCool, 49
- Jean C. Mendez Perez, 35
- Akyra Monet Murray, 18
- Kimberly Morris, 37
- Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27
- Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, 20
- Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
- Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
- Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
- Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
- Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
- Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
- Christopher J. Sanfeliz, 24
- Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
- Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
- Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
- Shane E. Tomlinson, 33
- Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
- Luis S. Vielma, 22
- Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
- Jerald A. Wright, 31