By Yaasmeen Piper
Fifteen minutes before Omar Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub, Luis Roldan received a message that his ex-boyfriend wanted to speak to him. Luis, who was in a week-long fight with his ex-boyfriend Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, responded, “I don’t have time for this. I just want to have fun.” Luis started the night dancing with his friend Isaiah Henderson, Henderson’s mother and many others who Luis refers to as his family.
“The night started off with just fun and joy,” said Roldan. “We were having a great time with friends and family.” The next time Luis saw Eddie, it was at his funeral.
As a part of Global Week, ESU welcomed three Pulse survivors, Luis Roldan, Isaiah Henderson and Neema Bahrami. They shared their stories, answered questions and gave advice on how to keep fighting.
Isaiah Henderson, also called the “Vogue sensation,” choked up when sharing the story of his best friend and mother who was there with him the night of June 12. Isaiah’s mother, a three-time fighter of cancer, struggled with depression.
“I remember the day she came to me breaking down about how depressed she was. Out of my 22 years of life, I’ve never seen her cry like that.”
Henderson’s mother, Brenda Marquez McCool, loved to dance as much as he did, so he introduced her to the nightclub scene again. “She was just like me. She went out every chance she got.”
As an honor to his mother, Henderson continues to go out and dance. “That’s what I do now and I always get judged, like, ‘how can you go out knowing this happened.’ Nobody understands that, that was my mom’s happy place. Going out was her happy thing to do. So, when I go out today, it’s like she’s right here–she’s right here next to me. And for everything to happen like that… it breaks my heart. I don’t know how I’m still standing here now.”
Henderson was one of eleven siblings, and after the death of his mother, they all got a chance to reconnect. “I have my family and that’s all that matters to me right now. After all these years, we’ve never been together. All eleven of us, we always had problems with each other, but now, we’re all we have.”
Two days after the tragedy, Pulse Entertainment manager and event coordinator for Pulse Orlando nightclub and the One Pulse foundation, Neema Bahrami, found a green heart made out of cloth hanging from his door. “This was made by three little kids in my neighborhood that wanted me to know that love is free,” said Bahrami.
The gesture inspired Bahrami to create the Hang a Heart organization. “We do workshops all over now–DC, New York, LA–Orlando is our base. We bring kids into our workshops, and we build these hearts together. We teach them that we all love as one. We take the sexual orientation out, the race, the gender, the religion. We are still one. Love has no boundaries.”
As a way to spread the love, Bahrami, who also kept the crowd in a fit of laughter, encouraged everyone out of their seats and hug the person to your left and right and tell them that you love them.
“See. Doesn’t that feel good?! You have to get to know the people next to you because every moment in your life counts. Remember one thing: always love as one. We have no color; we have no boundaries. Love is love.”
For many of their members, Pulse was the place where they could live without boundaries. For Roldan, Pulse was the first gay club he went to after he came out. Bahrami, who has a Muslim background and grew up with religious parents, found acceptance in multiple LGBT-friendly clubs.
“My mom prayed on her knees. When she found out I was gay, she prayed harder. She saw me with my first boyfriend, and she said ‘awh shit’. It kept getting worse for her. So, when I walked into the gay club, I got to be me and nobody judged me for that… unless they were a shady queen.”
As for Luis, it took him two months to step back out into the world after what happened at Pulse. “I didn’t want to hide under the covers anymore. I forced myself to get up and be a voice for the 49 lives that were lost. Hope is something that you have in your heart, but it also requires action. We don’t want things like this to happen again. I’m trying to spread word of love and peace as well as preventing gun violence.”
Roldan has since teamed up with another survivor, Angel Santiago, and other friends who were affected by the shooting and created an organization to spread love, peace, respect, understanding and preventing gun violence.
“We are trying to cut illegal gun sales, expanding background checks,” said Roldan.
He also works with the Dru project, an organization that promotes LGBTQA equality, as well as love and kindness for all. “We’ve been going to a lot of high schools,” said Roldan. “We are keeping the message of hope and taking action. What happened [at Pulse] made everyone stronger, mostly the LGBT. So, don’t live in fear because we’re all here together, and everyone is supporting you.”
“I really hope you guys take action in your schools,” said Roldan. “There’s a lot of clubs and things to get involved in. Make sure you get involved and spread kindness around. It’s hard for people to be kind in the world, but since everything happened, I see everyone as loved. My life–your life can be taken away at any second. So please, just spread love and peace. It starts with you.”
Our very own LGBTQIA organization PRIDE, which also hosted the event, was applauded by Bahrami. “You have a great organization on campus. When I went to school, we didn’t have that. It’s important to see what programs they have for you. They also provide counseling. It’s important to keep speaking, and here’s the people that are going to help you right here on your campus. You just have to use those resources.” Asking them to stand, Bahrami spoke directly to the PRIDE members in the audience. “Thank you guys for what you do,” said Bahrami.
“We influence everybody everywhere we go to step outside, and show that you’re proud, and don’t allow that evil to take over your life,” said Bahrami. “Because when you do that and you’re not standing out there, regardless if you’re holding a gay flag or an American flag, you’re proud of who you are, and that’s important.”
For more information on how you can help the victims of the Pulse shooting and the families of the 49 angels, visit www.onepulsefoundation.org.
Email Yaasmeen at: