Nightclubs are Our Safe Havens: Longtime Patron of Orlando LGBT Club Reacts to Mass Shooting

June 13, 2016


Daniel Leon-Davis

senior creative director of Soze. His piece published in Fusion is "The Site of the Orlando Shooting Wasn’t Just a Gay Nightclub. It was My Safe Haven." He grew up in Orlando and was a regular at Pulse.

For over a decade, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was a popular destination for the LGBT community in central Florida. It was opened in 2004 by Barbara Poma to celebrate her brother, who had died of AIDS. We speak to Orlando native Daniel Leon-Davis. He wrote a piece for Fusion titled "The Site of the Orlando Shooting Wasn’t Just a Gay Nightclub. It was My Safe Haven."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Leon-Davis, you know, in the list of names, overwhelmingly Latino, they’ve identified 49 of the 50 now dead.


AMY GOODMAN: One of the names is Daniel Leon.


AMY GOODMAN: Your name is Daniel Leon-Davis. You grew up in Orlando?

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Mm-hmm. I think—I think something that’s very important to add to the conversation is that it’s not just Pride Month, it’s also Immigrant Heritage Month. Right? And so, the process of taking in, as a gay Latino who grew up literally—like, I went to Pulse all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: How many times do you think you went there?

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: At least over a hundred times. Like my friends and I literally called each other and said, "Had I been in Orlando last night, chances are I would have been at Pulse." Or, the night before. And so, it’s like, processing that—

AMY GOODMAN: It was Latin night.

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Yeah, and it was Latin night. And so I think there’s definitely—there’s a home that’s gone now. Right? Like Pulse wasn’t—a lot of people view gay clubs as just clubs, but the reality is, gay and trans people get pushed out of churches all the time, and oftentimes our safe havens become nightclubs. Right? It’s the place that you feel safe. It’s the place you feel like you can be yourself. And so, to have something like this happen at a nightclub, a gay nightclub, is just like—it hurts. Right? It’s home. It hurts. And this morning I woke up and, when the updated list of the victims’ names came out, literally had to call two of my friends to let them know that the people that they had been looking for had been murdered.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know people yourselves—do you know people yourself who died at the nightclub?

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: I don’t know—there’s no one on the list that I’ve seen thus far that I know. I still have one friend I haven’t been able to get in contact with since yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re wearing a T-shirt, Daniel, that says "Bulletproof #BlackLivesMatter."

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Yeah, it was very intentional this morning. I was rummaging through my closet trying to figure out what I was going to wear. And one of my dear friends, Damon Turner, created this T-shirt as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. And something that came to me was just thinking about the fact that so much of the work that I do and that we do as a movement is around intersectionality. Right? Like, this wasn’t just a gay club. This was a gay club with so many young people of color who really took it as home.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, it was also used as a place for political meetings and—

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Yes, yes. It was definitely—I mention it in my Fusion piece, but it was definitely—it was almost like a community center. Right? Like, there were weeks where I went to Pulse like three or four times. And it wasn’t all about dancing and drinking, right? It was about actually building community. And I think, for me, it was the first place I built community where I felt safe.

AMY GOODMAN: The owner, Barbara Poma, her brother died of AIDS?

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Mm-hmm, yeah. I think the story of how Pulse came together—something that’s been running through my mind is, do you—do you even open up another Pulse? Right? Do you—do you just let this be and let it go? And I think something that’s been running through my head is like all the experiences that have happened inside of that nightclub and everything that’s like the history that’s almost like been built there, right? Like Orlando is one of the gay-friendliest cities in the entire nation, but the reality is that it’s still the South.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a quote of Richard Kim, Richard Kim who wrote in The Nation, "That was my first lesson that gay bars are more than just licensed establishments where homosexuals pay to drink. Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia."

DANIEL LEON-DAVIS: Right. Like, it’s just something different, right? And what’s crazy to me is that it took something like this to happen for me to process that. As I was writing the piece yesterday, I just kept thinking, "Wow, this isn’t just a club. This isn’t just a club. This is literally people’s safe haven."

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion and also talk about the role of weapons in the attack that took place. We don’t know everything that happened. We don’t know about this time frame of three hours before the police moved in or who ultimately died by what bullets. This is all going to be unveiled, I assume, in the next few days. But what we do know is that at this point 50 people are dead, mainly young, overwhelmingly Latino, celebrating Latin night at the Pulse in Orlando, Florida. We want to thank Hannah Willard, who will stay with us, and Daniel Leon-Davis. We’ll also be joined by a state senator, and we’re going to be looking at what happened in another horrific massacre, this one in the gun-loving nation in Australia. It was several decades ago, but after this happened, almost overnight, it passed some of the most restrictive gun legislation in the world. Stay with us.

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