Three miles north of the gay nightclub Pulse, the site of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, is Parliament House, the oldest gay nightclub and resort in Orlando. On Sunday night, 1,400 of Orlando’s LGBT community members and allies flocked to Parliament House for some sense of solidarity and community grieving. And, of course, a drag show.
“We’ve been through some very rough times with the LGBT community, and we’ve always prided ourselves on staying open,” said Tim Evanicki, the artistic director at Parliament House, which celebrates its 41st birthday this summer.
He explained that they weren’t expecting very many people to show up on Sunday night, and they weren’t sure whether they should go ahead with the night’s planned drag show. But it turned out to be something everyone needed.
“The number of people that showed up was incredible. They were talking about how when Challenger exploded, everything in Florida was shutting down but Parliament House stayed open. That’s how we’re dealing with it.”
That turnout was especially impressive considering that community paranoia is currently running high. Unsubstantiated rumors about second and third shooters on the loose are rampant on social media. City Commissioner Patty Sheehan even asked that Sunday night’s candlelight vigil at Lake Eola be canceled because local law enforcement was spread so thin. Southern Nights, another nearby gay nightclub, has been closed since the tragedy. But Parliament House remains open.
“We’ve always had great security,” Evanicki said, explaining that Parliament House works closely with the Orlando Police Department and has a security staff that checks bags at the door. When asked whether he was afraid a shooting similar to what happened at Pulse could happen at Parliament House, Evanicki said, “Of course it crosses everyone’s mind, but I’m a New Yorker. I was in New York for 9/11, and we all had the same feelings, being worried and not knowing who was affected. You just have to get out there.”
As is typical of gay clubs like Pulse and Parliament House, which does a slew of fundraisers every year, the proceeds are recycled back into the community.
“When we all woke up to text messages and news alerts on our phones, we all just sprung into ‘what can we do to help’ mode,” said Evanicki.
After hundreds of people flocked on Sunday to OneBlood, a downtown Orlando LGBT community gathering place, the need for supplies like food and ice soared. Parliament House was there to help. On Sunday afternoon, Parliament House contacted the owners of Pulse and put together a White Ribbon Campaign for peace and survivors of terrorism. They made more than 2,000 ribbons, which were given away in exchange for small donations. By the end of the day, all the ribbons were all gone.
Additionally, Parliament House will be raising money by doing what they do best—entertaining. On June 25, they will host a benefit concert for families of the victims and the survivors of the attack. Evanicki says there are some “big names” signed up that he expects will help raise a lot of money to assist with funeral costs, medical needs, and lost wages for the surviving staff at Pulse who will be out of work for some time.