Last June in Orlando, FL, a deranged man walked into the packed Pulse nightclub, a longtime party refuge of the gay community, and shot up the place, killing 49 men and women and wounding 53. It remains the biggest massacre committed by a single person with a gun and the deadliest act of violence against the LGBT community in American history.
As the world struggled to come to terms with the horror, Savannah’s LGBT community responded to the tragedy with its signature loving devotion. Three of the city’s most colorful performance troupes—The Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue, House of Gunt and the Club One Cabaret rallied their feathers and platform heels to collaborate onstage for a show to raise funds for the victims’ families and the survivors.
“There was no way we couldn’t do something,” says Club One general manager Travis Coles, who immediately offered to host. “We felt like our safe space had been invaded. Gathering everyone together was how we needed to cope.”
The June 23 event raised almost $8,000 and had a line of folks winding around the building.
“The thing that really stood out was when people were waiting, I heard so many straight allies who had never been to the club before—I bet we had forty, fifty percent straight folks here with us,” remembers Coles. “They made a point to come, even if they were scared.”
Since the Pulse tragedy, Club One—also voted your favorite gay bar and dance club this year—has beefed up security measures, and the city and police department have offered to help with extra patrols. Thankfully, none of it has been necessary.
“The irony is that of all the nightclubs downtown, we probably deal with the least amount of violence,” says Coles. “Though the walkie talkies make it a lot easier to get ice to the bartenders.”
Though its origin was bittersweet, the collaboration of the three flamboyant ensembles has yielded a silver lining. Last year’s closing of Ampersand left House of Gunt and Sweet Tease without a venue for their monthly performances, and the ladies of the Club One Cabaret have offered up their stage with a curtsy.
The trio of fabulous comes together again on June 15 for a fundraiser benefitting Savannah’s new LGBT center and Stand Out Youth, and Savannah can expect some over-the-top awesomeness at Club One’s 30th anniversary blowout later this year.
“That upside of this is that it’s really spawned a great relationship between us all,” sighs Coles. “We’d been looking for a way to come together before, and we got it.”
As the first anniversary of the Pulse massacre looms, the LGBT community and its allies continue to stand shoulder to shoulder for a world in which love always wins. (Another Savannahian, artist and Armstrong State University lecturer Mia Merlin, has also paid tribute to Pulse victims with an exhibit of 49 portraits—one for each person killed—that is currently on display at the Orlando City Hall’s Terrace Gallery through June 14.)
“You can try and tear us down, but it will only make us stronger and more united,” vows Coles, once again voted Savannah’s Best Liberal.
“We won’t be intimidated and we won’t back down.” —Jessica Leigh Lebos
Runner-up: Reopening of The Original Pinkie Masters