Barry Saunders

Pulse’s pain is personal for Raleigh man who used to work there – Saunders

Tabor Winstead of Raleigh poses outside The Bar in Durham after a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of Pulse Orlando presented by The Bar and The LGBTQ Center Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Winstead worked at the Pulse in Orlando.
Tabor Winstead of Raleigh poses outside The Bar in Durham after a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of Pulse Orlando presented by The Bar and The LGBTQ Center Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Winstead worked at the Pulse in Orlando. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Oh man. There were dudes holding hands with dudes, women holding hands with women, and women holding hands with men.

There were a whole lot of public displays of affection going on – or maybe they were just consoling each other. Regardless of motivation, some people in the crowd Tuesday night at a somber vigil for victims of the Orlando massacre unselfconsciously affirmed the provocative message on the T-shirt one person wore: “Gender Is Over.”

Others in the crowd, estimated at more than 1,000, outside The Bar on Rigsbee Avenue expressed themselves in boldly colored or rainbow-flag-festooned attire, including T-shirts with don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think messages.

The piece of apparel with the most poignant message was worn by Tabor Winstead. He was the last speaker at the 90-minute vigil, and although people wept at his words – words conveying sentiments expressed equally powerfully by previous speakers – his black T-shirt foretold a perspective none of the others could.

It bore the logo of Pulse, the nightclub at which he used to work – the logo, he said, “you’ve seen on television the past couple of days.”

Winstead, 41, is originally from Raleigh and moved back last year to look after his parents. During his 15 years in the Orlando area, he said, he worked as a lighting technician at Pulse and became close with the owner – “(she) opened the club to honor her brother who died of HIV AIDS,” he said – and employees.

Winstead’s job was to keep the lights flashing in tune to the deejay’s beat, whether it was thumping funky or salsa smooth.

“It breaks my heart to think that the floor I once lit up is now soaked with the blood of my family,” Winstead said Tuesday night. The words caught in his throat, and he had to regain his composure before a Spanish-speaking interpreter could translate for the large portion of the crowd that was Latino.

When I spoke with Winstead on Wednesday, there was no such painful pause.

“The more I talk about it, the easier it is,” he said. “My doctor saw me on television (talking about the massacre) and called me. She was concerned that I seemed so calm. ... She thought I might be in shock and told me to come in to see her. She said ‘I’m not even going to charge you.’ She said I was the calmest she’d ever seen and didn’t know if that was good or bad.”

What good, I asked, comes from events such as Tuesday night’s vigil?

“It brings everyone together, keeps us stronger,” he said. “That definitely helps the healing process. The pain was very personal to me, and being around others like me was very helpful.”

Renee Batchelor, owner of The Bar, said the club on Sunday will host a fundraiser for the families of the two North Carolina victims – Shane Evan Tomlinson, who graduated from Northwest Cabarrus High School in Kannapolis and from East Carolina University, and Tevin Eugene Crosby, who graduated from West Iredell High School in Statesville.

The Orlando attack, as is everything else during a political season, is being politicized. Was it inspired by terrorism, by homophobia or did the shooter get his feelings hurt when some same-sex object of his affections refused to dance with him on one of his reported previous visits to the club?

People will be pondering that for a while.

Winstead won’t. To him he said, “it doesn’t even matter at this point” what precipitated the carnage. “From what I read, what got him outraged was that he saw two men kissing ... but he had pledged allegiance to ISIS.”

Yeah, but he also had reportedly pledged allegiance to Hezbollah, which doesn’t even pass the smell test, because the two groups are not considered allies. I’d bet every one of my Sylvester, Monte Rock III and Donna Summer albums that the murderer, despite being – if reports of his online history are accurate – conflicted by his own sexuality, was just a homicidal homophobe with easy access to a semiautomatic rifle.

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