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Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse, arises from the ashes, with 49 Angels

Pulse families ask for these to be the take-away of the new memorial: a feeling of love, hope, community, courage, strength and acceptance

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Barbara Poma outside of PULSE in Orlando, Florida (Courtesy of Barbara Poma)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Her story…. We never know about life’s path. We never know how following our loves and our passion can lead to heartbreak, and we don’t know how our heartbreaks can then be transformed into new hope.

No one can attest to this truth more than Barbara Poma. Barbara is the owner of Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida. On the night of June 12th, 2016, a man named Omar Mateen walked into her life and her vision and not only demolished it, but left her grieving for 49 of her cherished patrons.

It was not the first time in her life where her path made of a glorious rainbow had been shattered. Barbara had known grief before.

Barbara’s venture into the fabulous life started with her big brother, John. 

John was gay and came out at 18. Barbara was 14 at the time. “John was everything I’m not. He was very witty and funny and he was not serious. He was a rule breaker, and I was a rule follower. I was check all the boxes, follow all the rules. For John, none of that was happening. He was my first very best friend in life, I loved being with him. It was really though him that I connected into the LGBTQ+ community and grew up in it,” she told me during our conversation on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio.

John’s coming out was harsh in their Italian catholic family. He found ways to embrace it however. He would take his kid sister to “the beach”, but not a beach his mother imagined. It was the gay beach and T dances on the Fort Lauderdale strip. “So I grew up with drag queens and gay men. It was my normal. It was everything I knew and loved. I thought everyone had a fabulous older gay brother. I was extraordinarily lucky. That was my connection to the community.”

On February 13th, 1991 Barbara lost that lifeline to the community she fell in love with. John, her brother and best friend, died of AIDS. Life would go on, as it did for many of us at that time, until Barbara found a way to channel the celebration of John into a new entity, a nightclub. A friend brought her a proposition and a business plan for a gay bar, and her husband agreed to fund it… if she would run it.

She embraced it even though it had never been her intention to be an owner of a gay business.  She wanted to create the neighborhood’s safe space. “It was a blast. It was to me though, going back to a time warp, the club filled with people dancing, and having their friends with them, their straight friends, because that was really important to us when we first started Pulse. We wanted it to be a beautiful clean space where you would be proud to bring your mom. It was really important to us, and it was,” she recalls. “We started off with that mission that everyone who walks in that door is welcome, everyone who walks in is family.  That’s how we were.

That’s how the staff was. We were a place unlike other bars where it’s just ‘twinks’ or ‘girls’ or ‘bears’ or just ‘the most gorgeous men with their shirts off’. That is not what Pulse was, it was where everyone who walked in could see people just like them. Girls and boys alike. We had girls on the bar, boys on the bar—which everyone told us would never work, but it did. Everyone of different races, gender and sizes, was represented every night. That was something we worked hard to build.”

Barbara’s new rainbow connection had emerged.

On that June night, she was in Cancun Mexico on a mother/daughter trip celebrating her daughter’s high school graduation. At 2am her time, she got a call she will never forget. It was her manager shouting “He’s shooting! He’s shooting! He’s shooting!” Everything was noisy where she was and she had trouble grasping what he was saying. It did not make sense to her. There had been a shooting elsewhere in Orlando the night before, but they had never had any trouble at Pulse. She asked if he meant the previous shooting. “NO, he is inside Pulse shooting inside right NOW,” was the answer. 

“I was completely in a state of shock. I can only explain it as the darkest scariest moments of your life, all I kept saying to my manager was “please tell me no one is dead, please tell me that everyone is OK.”  I could not grasp what he was saying.  We did not know this was a terrorist attack, we didn’t know – he had gotten out so fast. I started doing a roll call of the staff. Where’s Bobbie? Where’s Kate… just going through everybody. Where’s Brian? Made him try to contact people, find out whether they were still inside or whether they had gotten out,” she says.

She was on a plane back the next morning. “It took me a while to grasp the reaction of the city and of the world. I did not know if one day had passed or five days had passed. I did not have any concept of time. I could not sleep, I could not eat. I was just trying to wrap my brain around what was happening. I was not allowed to leave the house—the people who surrounded me, kept me home.

The press was allowed to be at Pulse, but I wasn’t allowed to be at Pulse. I tried not to watch too much TV because it was too hard. I just wanted to be down there and be with everyone but I was isolated here at home.  When it started to click in, it was really hard to digest and understand.”

Four weeks and two days later, when she finally was given possession of Pulse back by the FBI, she walked into her club. “I entered the building and experienced what I can only describe is what happens when a soul leaves a human body. I experienced it when my brother took his last breath, all of a sudden, he was a shell of himself. Pulse was completely a shell of itself. It was gone. The spirit of it was gone. It was not what it was, you could feel it. And I knew instantly that we could not dance in there again.”

If the Universe had not learned anything, it needed to learn this: it could burn Barbara Poma’s fabulousness down, but she will always rise with the next new hope. That new hope is the onePULSE foundation. The foundation is creating a monument of wonder in the spot where the worst LGBTQ massacre occurred. President Biden has already signed the bill with the national monument designation. It will consist of a permanent museum, a permanent memorial, and a “Survivor’s Walk” which is a walkway from Pulse to the trauma unit that saved so many lives.

onePULSE also features an education program based on intersectionality. “96 percent of our victims that night were black and brown. It is a large consideration to incorporate that fact,” Barbara states. It includes a tribute program to the fallen 49 called Think, Relate and Influence. It trains organizations on inclusivity. They have a safe space education for religious pastors on turning churches to be more affirming.

Barbara has also laid down the gauntlet of making the 49 more than victims, she has opened the door for them to be angels. She has given the means for each of them to find a sense of immortality by sending off into the world others who will carry on their individual inspiration.

“We have our 49 Legacy Scholarship, which we have a scholarship in each one of the victim’s names, that was designated by their family members in that victims career aspirations or career where they achieved it, for example, Alcamenda Alverez wanted to become a nurse but had not achieved it yet, so her family set up a scholarship for people seeking a nursing career. We are in our third cycle. These range from EMT, to cosmetology to medical. These are national scholarships opened to everyone. The criteria for recipients is how can you move forward the legacy of that one of the 49 angels.”

Working with the commissions for Oklahoma City and 9/11, Barbara gained guidance. Each surveyed their communities on how people should feel visiting the memorial site for each horror.  Oklahoma City and New York designed theirs to capture “grief, anger, sorrow, loss, sadness.” They succeeded. Those are the feelings you experience in visiting those sites.

Pulse families ask for these to be the take-away of the new memorial: a feeling of love, hope, community, courage, strength and acceptance. “Our families want this to be a beautiful space that people want to come to. We want people to know the joy of Pulse where people were having the time of their lives. Our goal, when you visit the memorial and museum when they are ready, is that you take the spirit with you and impart it then wherever you live, “ Barbara explains.

Barbara Poma has a vision. She is on a mission to make the Pulse memorial a reality, she won’t quit until it is done, and she WILL succeed. She will stand yet again in a rainbow of hope.

She still talks to her brother John, looking skyward she asks, “Really, is this what this was all meant to be about?”

 She does not get a reply. I ended our conversation with this: Barbara, I did not know your brother, but as a gay man with a kid sister myself, I know, I KNOW he is looking down at you right now.

And he is very, very proud.

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Listen to the show:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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First-ever Out doctor elected as new AMA president

The anesthesiologist & LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month

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Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld has been named president-elect of the American Medical Association (Photo courtesy of AMA)

CHICAGO – Physicians and medical students have elected Wisconsin-based anesthesiologist Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld as the first openly gay president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). Ehrenfeld was elected June 14 at the AMA House of Delegates’ annual meeting.

“Well, it’s certainly just an amazing feeling to know that you’ve got the confidence of your colleagues from such a broad array of practice types of modalities and perspectives,” Ehrenfeld told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “The association is a very diverse and increasingly diverse organization, and that’s a good thing. It’s more representative of the country and to see such broad support for a vision to move forward was really sort of heartening for me.”

The anesthesiologist and LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month.

“When I joined the AMA 22 years ago, roughly, I didn’t think it was possible that a gay person could be the AMA president. And certainly 175 years ago, when the AMA was founded, that felt like something that wouldn’t have been possible,” Ehrenfeld said. “And so, to look at how the association, how medicine, health professional organizations have evolved, it’s pretty remarkable when you look at what that has looked like, and that’s a reflection of society in general. But certainly, you know, another pink ceiling has been shattered.”

Ehrenfeld previously served on the AMA’s Board of Trustee’s Executive Committee. He also worked on the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians; a long-term project that was unveiled at the annual meeting.

“A big component of that is helping physicians prepare the health system so that we can make sure that we can renew our commitment to achieving optimal health for all,” Ehrenfeld said. “To do that, we have to make sure that we prioritize the needs of physicians to improve patient care.”

Ehrenfeld is an associate dean and tenured professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and has advocated for issues affecting multiple marginalized communities, such as transgender representation in the military. He emphasized the importance of diversifying the medical field to ensure better service for patients.

“We need folks from every community but particularly marginalized communities to step forward and enter the profession. That’s how patients get better care,” Ehrenfeld said “There’s data that when we have a more diverse healthcare workforce, and when we’re a more diverse community, that those health disparities inequities, actually start to go away.”

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Clela Rorex, first U.S. county clerk to issue gay marriage licenses has died

“Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up”

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Clela Rorex at the Longmont Colorado Pride 2019 (Photo courtesy of Out Boulder County)

LONGMONT, CO. – Out Boulder County and the family of Clela Rorex are saddened to announce the death of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer pioneering ally, Clela Rorex. On March 27,1975 Clela issued the first marriage license to a same-sex couple in the United States. Her decision that day changed her life and was a pivotal moment in the decades long struggle for marriage equality.

“The LGBTQ+ movement lost a pioneering ally, and I lost a dear friend. Although Clela Rorex did not intend to be champion for LGBTQ+ equality, she became one on March 27, 1975 when she issued the first marriage license in the United States to a gay couple. That act of courage changed the course of her life and the course of the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people. Clela was 40 years ahead of the country’s politics on marriage equality. It would be difficult to overstate how important her decision to issue that marriage license was on the movement for marriage equality,” Mardi Moore, Executive Director of Out Boulder County said in a statement.

Just as important as her historical significance is the profound impact Clela had on local members of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself, who had the opportunity to be her friend. Clela was a blessing to everyone who knew and loved her. I once told Clela that she was the ally I needed before I knew I needed one and I meant it. Her life made a huge difference, and she will be missed,” Moore added.

Clela Rorex, in March 1975, became the first County Clerk in the United States to knowingly issue same-sex marriage licenses to gay couples – sparking a backlash she could never have predicted, and, for one couple, a decades-long struggle for legal recognition of their marriage. 

Clela’s first day as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder on January 1, 1975 was her father’s last as County Clerk in Routt County, a position he had held for 30 years. A political neophyte, Clela had run an upstart campaign against an entrenched Republican Party that had held the clerkship in Colorado for decades.

Her platform was two-pronged – 1) making it easier for people, especially students, to vote and 2) expanding access to the services offered through the clerk’s office – vehicle licensing, voter registration, and the recording of documents, including marriage licenses. 

 Historically, the role of County Clerk is, sometimes paradoxically, both uncontroversial and deeply involved in the performance of government tasks that converge with personal aspects of the lives of its citizens.

Clela, keenly aware of the frustration that government officials and institutions can provoke, quickly instituted new practices. She expanded County Clerk office hours – including remaining open over the lunch hour and late one night of each week – ensuring convenient access.

She randomized the issuance of license plate numbers, ending the practice of assigning lower-numbered plates to political elites and powerbrokers. And, she flipped the script on voter registration – making it the responsibility of the Clerk, and not the public, to register voters.  

Clela passed away on June 19, 2022 in Longmont, Colorado.

Clela Rorex was born in Denver on July 23, 1943. Within days, she was adopted by Cecil and Ruby Rorex in Steamboat Springs – where she spent her childhood. She credits her father with teaching her the principles of fairness and respect and her mother, who taught dance out of their house, with giving her confidence. “Without either of them,” she recently told this writer, “I would never have run for office.”

As a young naval wife, in 1967, Clela moved to Guantanamo Bay. It is here that she reported first experiencing government-sanctioned segregation. “Everything was segregated. Everything” she later said. “It was humiliating. It had a very strong impact on me.” 

Clela and her son returned to Colorado in 1970 and attended the University of Colorado-Boulder, earning a BA before running for County Clerk and Recorder.

Clela Rorex in 1970’s (Screenshot of archival historic news footage/YouTube)

When two men from nearby Colorado Springs entered the Boulder County Clerk office on March 26, 1975, requesting a marriage license, Clela reached out to Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise, seeking clarification about any existing Colorado state law or code that would specifically prohibit her from issuing a marriage license to two people of the same sex.

Mr. Wise quickly responded that “there is no statutory law prohibiting the issuance of a license, probably because the situation was simply not contemplated in the past by our legislature.” Clela issued the license to the couple the following day, March 27, 1975.

“After having been so deeply involved in the women’s rights movements” Clela told this writer in 2016, “who was I to then deny a right to anyone else? It wasn’t my job to legislate morality.” 

Within days of issuing the first same-sex marriage license, local, and then national, news picked up on the story. Over the course of the next month, Clela would issue five more licenses to same-sex couples. As a result, Clela reported receiving hundreds of letters and calls to her office and her home condemning and threatening her. “My son would sometimes pick up the phone,” she told this writer in 2015, ”and I could always tell when it was someone calling about the licenses, because he would get this terrified look in his eyes. It changed our lives.” 

Clela Rorex courtesy of Out Boulder County

In late April of that year, Clela complied when Colorado State Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane directed her to stop issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. But, by that point, she had issued a license to Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, who had traveled from California after watching Johnny Carson mock the “wacky town” in Boulder on national television.

This license, and their marriage, would set the stage for a federal battle that would resolve only 40 years later after the United State Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide. Mr. Adams, a U.S. citizen, and Mr. Sullivan, an Australian citizen, had been seeking to establish legal permanent residency for Mr. Sullivan through marriage, and the license they obtained from Clela would play a critical role.

In 1977, Clela resigned as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, never to hold elective office again. She raised two sons, obtained two Masters degrees, and finished her career working as a legal administrator for the Native American Rights Fund. 

In 2015, Clela celebrated the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the steps of the Boulder County Courthouse where she had first issued the six licenses 40 years earlier, a location that has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Upon hearing of the decision, former District Attorney Bill Wise told this writer that “Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up.”

Shortly thereafter, the United States government issued a green card to Anthony Sullivan, officially recognizing the marriage license that Clela had issued in 1975 as sufficient supporting documentation for the application submitted by Mr. Sullivan and his husband, Richard Adams (who had died in 2012).

Thomas Miller, the creator and producer of a documentary chronicling this story, Limited Partnership, said that, “it was Clela’s keen sense of social justice and strong moral fortitude that make her one of the true pioneers in LGBTQ equality in America. She will always be treasured in the hearts of all who knew her.”

To this day, none of the marriage licenses that Clela Rorex issued to same-sex marriage couples have been revoked or invalidated.

Clela dedicated the last years of her life to LGBTQ+ ally-ship and advocacy, volunteering with Out Boulder County, an organization dedicated to facilitating connection, education, and programming for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around Boulder County.

She will be greatly missed, including by her sons, Scott and Aron and countless LGBTQ+ individuals around the world who embrace her and her story as beacons of hope and inspiration.

Clela’s celebration of life will be held on what would have been her 79th birthday, July 23, 2022. Details are forthcoming. At Clela’s request, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Clela’s name to Out Boulder County at https://outboulder.app.neoncrm.com/forms/in-memory-of-clela-rorex

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen has died at age 76

She pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen (Screenshot/YouTube film trailer)

CHICAGO – Chicago transgender icon and activist Gloria Allen, who founded and ran a charm school for homeless trans youth and was the subject of the award-winning documentary “Mama Gloria” and the critically acclaimed play “Charm,” has died at the age of 76. 

Allen was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on October 6, 1945. She grew up in Chicago amid the legendary drag balls on the city’s South Side and transitioned before Stonewall with the love and support of her mother Alma, a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother Mildred, a seamstress for crossdressers and strippers.  

Allen overcame traumatic violence in high school to become an out and proud leader in her community. She earned a LPN and worked at the University of Chicago Hospital and in private homes as a nurse’s aide. In her later years, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners that she received from her mother and grandmother. The young people affectionately nicknamed her “Mama Gloria.” 

Her life and activism were featured in the Chicago Tribune and served as inspiration for the hit play “Charm,” written by Philip Dawkins. The play premiered at Steppenwolf Garage Theater in Chicago before traveling to Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

For her work with the charm school, Allen was awarded the Living Legend Award by Janet Mock and Precious Brady-Davis at the 2014 Trans 100 Awards. She famously appeared on the cover of the book, “To Survive on This Shore,” with photographs and interviews of trans and non-binary elders by Jess T. Dugan.

In 2020, she became the subject of the acclaimed documentary feature “Mama Gloria,” directed by Luchina Fisher. The film was broadcast on “Afropop: the Ultimate Cultural Exchange” on World channel and PBS and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. The documentary brought Allen new audiences and new fame. Her story was featured in People magazine, the 19th News, the BBC and NowThisNews. In 2021, she received SAGE’s Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference.

Allen’s body was discovered Monday morning in her apartment at the LGBTQ-friendly senior residence Town Hall Apartments in Chicago. She is believed to have died peacefully in her sleep. She is survived by several siblings and numerous nieces and nephews, as well as her chosen family.

“I hit walls that were up against me, but I pressed through the walls and made myself known to everybody because I’m not ashamed, and I want people to know that,” she told The 19th News.

ChiFilmFest 2020 | Mama Gloria – Official Trailer:

Meet Mama Gloria. Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen emerged from the South Side’s drag ball culture in the 1960s to trailblaze a path for transgender youth to follow. With positivity and polish, she overcame prejudice and traumatic violence to become a proud leader in her community.

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