The Orlando nightclub that became the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history on Sunday morning saw itself as a gay sanctuary.
It’s co-owner, Barbara Poma, opened Pulse on Orange Avenue in 2004 in memory of her brother John, who died of AIDS, with the idea that it would be a safe place, an educational and community venue and the “hottest gay nightclub in Orlando.”
She saw her own family’s embrace of her gay brother despite cultural misgivings as evidence that broad acceptance was also possible in the larger society.
“Being raised in a strict Italian family, being gay was frowned upon,” the Pulse Orlando website says. “However, when John came out to his family and friends, the family dynamic transitioned from a culture of strict tradition to one of acceptance and love.”
The website says Poma opened the club “to keep her brother’s spirit alive” after he died in 1991, coining the name Pulse to describe his heartbeat, “reverberating throughout the club.”
The club was designed to embrace the gay lifestyle and also to be a community partner. It refers to itself as more than “just another gay club.”
From party scene to community partner
Poma had come of age partying with her brother in what was then the gay underground party scene of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but Pulse strove to be more than the hottest party scene; the venue also served as a spot for LGBT community and educational events.
It has worked with organizations ranging from Breast Cancer Awareness and Make A Wish to Come out with Pride and Gay Games Orlando 2018.
“Our mission at Pulse is to continue to raise the bar of awareness and be a part of our community in any way possible,” the website says.
The club might be best known for its power party atmosphere and its weekly themed performances.
On the night of the shooting, the theme was Latin Night (Dominican Pride was scheduled for next Saturday). The party advertised the main entertainment as The Princess, a drag queen from Chicago, $5 martini specials until midnight and $5 skybombs all night with “Orlando’s hottest shot boys” serving.
“Experience Pulse, a world of fun and fantasy,” its website says.