For the past six months, Joel Morales’ life has been about recovering from the June 12 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Morales had been the lead HIV tester at The Center, a LGBT resource center in Orlando, but after the attack he took up case management for Pulse survivors and the families of the victims to help them try to return to normalcy as best as possible.
The next step in that recovery for Morales and seven other people form Orlando is a trip to Pasadena to ride in the 2017 Rose Parade on Jan. 2.
The group will ride on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s float, named “To Honor and Remember Orlando.” The now-shuttered club’s owner, Barbara Poma, will be joined by survivors Gustavo Marrero, Isaiah Henderson, Victor Febo, club patron Jahqui Sevilla, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Morales and Corey Lyons, president of the Orlando chapter of Impulse United, a volunteer organization that promotes healthier lifestyles among gay men that has helped with recovery efforts after the attack.
The foundation decided almost immediately after the attack that its Rose Parade float for the coming year would be a tribute to the 49 lives lost, said Ged Kenslea, senior director of communications for the foundation.
With almost 70 million households tuning in to watch the parade worldwide, Kenslea said the float provides an opportunity to communicate a broader message of remembrance and tolerance.
“It may only be a minute-and-a-half that the float is on screen, but it’s important to present the message to remember the victims and survivors and to confront and challenge the stigma and homophobia that could’ve contributed to the attack,” Kenslea said.
Lyons said the attack on Pulse, which led to its permanent closure, took away one of only a handful of “safe spaces” for Orlando’s LGBTQ community. Impulse Group had regularly conducted HIV testing outside of the club and had planned to do more before the shooting.
Supporting the LGBTQ and queer Latin communities as they attempt to recover has been an ongoing challenge, Lyons said.
“In helping get people recovered, we’ve realized there’s a deeper wound there than we realized,” Lyons said. “The mental anguish of the attack was significant, so it’s been very challenging.”
However, Lyons agreed with Kenslea, saying that putting the survivors and their supporters in the Rose Parade will help everyone rally around the issue once again.
In addition to helping with case management, Morales was also a patron of the club, having attended a week before the attack. Friends of his invited him to go there that tragic night, and he declined.
By 2 a.m. that morning, he was trying his best to find out if his friends made it out alive.
Morales said riding in the Rose Parade is an opportunity to shift the focus away from the tragedy and onto the communal recovery efforts.
“It can be really triggering talking about the tragedy itself,” Morales said. “Let’s focus on love and make sure nothing like this can ever happen again.”