Orlando Pride Radio Host Talks Pulse's Place in LGBT Community, Why It's Hard Not to Be Scared
Orlando's Pulse -- a small but popular LGBT nightclub that opened in 2004 and attracts a young, diverse crowd -- became the site of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, when a gunman opened fire and began taking hostages.
The standoff ended with the death of the shooter, Omar Mateen, but not before 50 people had died -- 39 in the venue, 2 outside, and 9 en route to the hospital.
Sondra Rae Valentino, an afternoon host on Pride Radio Orlando and co-host on Johnny's House morning show on XL1067 who met her fiancée at Pulse, spoke to Billboard about the club and the mood in the Orlando LBGT community today.
What was your immediate reaction when you heard the news?
My immediate reaction was to jump on social media, which is sad to say, but to see if all my friends were checking in. Because thank God, Facebook now has that 'I'm safe' feature. That helped out tremendously. And I sent out a mass text, of course my parents were calling me. I was heartbroken. I broke down in tears and sent out a message to make sure everyone was okay.
What's your history with Pulse?
We used to go there all the time -- that's actually where I met my fiancée, where we fell in love back in the day. Pulse is one of the big gay and lesbian clubs we have here in Central Florida. Everyone in the community attends it. It's a smaller club [though], maybe 500 people are there on a Saturday [Note: Reports indicate approximately 300 people were inside when the shooting began].
What have you been doing today?
All day long we've been connecting with people who are trying to help out and to find out more facts, talking to people who are out there giving blood. We've talked to people who have known people who where there last night, but right now as there's no names released, it's hard to know if anyone [I know] is connected.
After this, a lot of people are talking about gun control. What do you think?
Honestly, I don’t know what to think anymore. My fiancée is a police officer and her whole thing now is that she wants to carry 24/7, no matter where we go, what we do. Her being my protector and watching over me, she's the one who is like "This is what we're going to have to do -- this is the life we have to live." She wants to carry non-stop now. President Obama spoke and said we won't give in to fear, but when I hear that it's kind of hard. I am scared now.
Is an Orlando Pride parade coming up?
Orlando pride parade in in October, but we have Gay Days that just happened, it's the first weekend in June every year. That just passed and brings in thousands of people across nation to Orlando. Unfortunately people are going to be frightened right now no matter where they are.
How are you feeling right now?
My thoughts and prayers go out to people still waiting for that phone call that their loved one is safe or unfortunately injured. I keep thinking about them. I'm just waiting to see if I'm connected to anyone, because the LGBT community is so close here and so friendly with each other. My fiancée is close with a bartender who was working there last night. She posted on social media she is okay. Unfortunately two other bartenders bartending close to her were shot. This is what I'm getting from she-said, she-said -- nothing has been confirmed -- but I'm hearing one bartender was shot in the leg and the other was shot in the back.
Is your fiancée on the job now?
My fiancée was not called in. She's supporting her brothers and sisters. I do want to thank everyone -- I'm blown away by all the support.
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