The Lines That Join Us
The Lines That Join Us is a storytelling project and exhibit. The goal of the project is to tell the stories of people who have chosen to get tattoos in response to the Pulse tragedy that unfolded on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, FL. Each portrait is accompanied by a brief narrative, and will introduce you to one of the many who have chosen to honor the 49 and greater LGBTQ+ community in this way.
Denise Colon, Angel Colon & Eileen Barral
Tattoo by Ink Spot, Kissimmee, FL
Mural by Andrew Spear
Angel Colon’s story has been shared worldwide. He is the epitome of a survivor, and even after being shot six times, going through multiple surgeries, and going to physical therapy regularly, it’s almost impossible to get him to do anything but smile. As Angel says, he always wants to “share my message of love, hope, and positivity because that’s the only way you can move forward.” He also makes it clear that he couldn’t do it without the support of his family.
Angel’s sisters Denise Colon and Eileen Barral have been by Angel’s side through his recovery process. Denise wanted to get a tattoo as soon as possible, but she waited until the right design came to her. She’s intentional about the meaning of her tattoo, a sea turtle with her brother’s initials, the date of the attack, and the number 49 in Roman numerals. For Denise, the sea turtle represents many things. “Sea turtles have longevity of life, they’re wise, they take their wisdom one day at a time, they learn things a day at a time and then they take that as a lesson and they incorporate it into their own lives. Sea turtles also take a strong hit, they take it in & keep on going as if nothing happened. I see that in my brother. All positive. He has hope and is very optimistic for the future.”
Angel responded to this decision with his typical modesty and smile. He said, “It was beautiful when she said that to me. I was touched, it means a lot. It’s something special, and the meaning of that is amazing. I feel like all of us should have that meaning of the turtle. Be optimistic and be positive all the time because it’s the only way forward.”
Tattoo by Trinity Tattoo, Winter Springs, FL
Mural by Michael Owen, Baltimore Love Project
In addition to her Pulse tattoo, Micaela has a tattoo of a stopwatch and butterfly. The stopwatch is set at 20 seconds, in reference to a quote from the movie We Bought a Zoo that Micaela quotes, “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and anything is possible.” Micaela consistently displays that courage, such as when she had to quit her K-12 teaching job in order to safely transition. She uses her tattoos as an opportunity to engage people in conversation about trans rights, and comes out as trans to complete strangers on a regular basis.
She came out as trans to her family on Transgender Remembrance Day in November 2015. She remembers the time between coming out and Pulse as being in a happy bubble, which burst shortly after she heard the news about Pulse. It was a wakeup call for her, and also a call to action. In the days after Pulse, Micaela counter-protested the Westboro Baptist Church, where met a lesbian couple. They didn’t exchange names, but the three-minute conversation stuck out to her as making her feel a part of the Orlando community
Shortly after, when she attended the vigil at Magic Kingdom proudly waving her trans flag, a trans man told her he was thrilled to see his community represented. Micaela and this man did not exchange names either, but when she found a spot at the Lake Eola vigil, she looked to her left and saw that lesbian couple – then looked to her right and saw that trans man. Micaela said it best when she expressed that she “felt like a number in this city, but Pulse really showed how connected we all are.”
Tattoo by Mike Reed at Control Tattoo, Titusville, FL
Mural by Zebra Coalition
Danielle radiates positive energy. She is a yoga teacher, and she used yoga as a way to heal in the wake of the tragedy. She works at the Warrior One studio, and in the days after Pulse the owners chose to open the studio as a space for people to gather, make art, and do yoga, and heal. Danielle found the experience therapeutic. She says, “My whole thing is community, so when things happen in our community that are really profound, good or bad, I think it’s so important to gather people.”
Pulse was a gathering place for Danielle and her friends. She was a shot girl there for a while, and met her current girlfriend Andrea there. They also shared their first kiss at Pulse. Andrea went to high school with Drew Leoninen, and the impact of Pulse was devastating to the couple. It was a sentimental place for them, and an important part of their history.
Danielle already had her elephant tattoo when Pulse happened. After Pulse, a friend told her about a studio in Titusville that was donating proceeds to charity. She wasn’t sure what to get, if she should add to an existing tattoo or create something new. She planned to get color on the elephant tattoo, she wanted him playing in water; she knew that this was the time, and that she wanted him to be playing in a rainbow. There’s a hidden heart in Danielle’s tattoo, but there’s no hiding the heart you feel in her presence.
Tattoo by Gabriel “Tater Tot” Gonzalez at Armadillo Reds, Kissimmee, FL
Mural by Track Shack staff and volunteers
JP was best friends with Drew Leinonen nad his boyfriend Juan Guerrero, two of the 49. He can’t remember exactly when he met Drew, because it was over ten years ago, but he thinks it was at a friend’s Halloween party. JP’s tattoo has two Pokemon characters: Larvitar, Juan’s favorite character, and Meowth, which JP chose to represent Drew because, “It’s the only Pokemon that can talk and it’s sarcastic.” This sense of humor is indicative of both the relationship JP had with Drew, and the way he’s responded to the tragedy.
JP is working with Drew’s mother Christine and several of Drew’s other friends on a charity they started called “The Dru Project.” The charity will support the creation of a curriculum for gay-straight alliance clubs in high schools, and to offer scholarships to students who embody Drew’s passion for inclusivity and acceptance. Drew started a gay-straight alliance club in his high school at a time when it wasn’t necessarily safe to do so. As JP said, “I was baffled that when he was that young he felt comfortable enough to say fuck it, whatever.”
Like many others, JP expressed his appreciation for the positive opportunities and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues that has come in the wake of the tragedy. He is dedicated to keeping the memory of his friend alive, while also making a difference in high schools around the United States.
CiCi Bianchini & Elena Taylor
Tattoos by Jon Santos at Hawk's Electric, Tampa, FL; Hunter Martinez at Ink Spot, Ybor City, FL
Mural by Rhett & Ashley Beth Withey
It’s hard to believe that Elena and CiCi have been together for five years, because they embody that joy that comes with new love. They look at each other with tenderness, even when they’re poking fun at one another, which is often. CiCi grew up in Orlando, and met Elena here while she was in school. The couple now live in Tampa, but will always feel a strong connection to Orlando.
Pulse was a second home for the couple. Elena spent eight years living in Orlando, and in that time became friends with Eddie Sotomayor, one of the 49. It was CiCi’s first gay bar, and her first bar backing job. She was at Pulse most weekend days every week. They are each tattoo people, and knew immediately they wanted something to represent Pulse, the friend they lost, and their love for their former home.
Elena is a physical therapist, and wanted a real EKG line for her tattoo. CiCi found a design she liked on Instagram, and modified it to represent her feeling that Orlando “is just one city and one pulse.” She follows that by saying, “I will always bleed my city.” The couple try to get back to Orlando whenever they can. They especially miss their friends, family, and the farmers market.
Tattoo by Thomas Jacobson at 1010 Mills, Orlando, FL
Mural by Richard Minino
Raymond is a natural flirt, with charm and panache that are undeniable. He’s worked at Southern Nights for over 30 years, longer than any other employee. He spent a lot of time at Pulse and was friends with many of the victims and survivors. Raymond says, “Other than me being there, it couldn’t have hit me any closer than it did.” His friend Kevin Jenks came down from New York City the week after Pulse to grieve with him, and to get a matching Pulse tattoo.
Five days after Kevin returned to New York, he was killed in a home invasion. In spite of all this, Raymond keeps a smile on his face. His tattoo artist, Thomas Jacobson at 1010 Mills, donated the proceeds from the tattoo directly to Raymond’s friend Victor Guanchez, who worked at Pulse and was one of Raymond’s close friends. Raymond was there when Victor got to meet President Obama in the hospital, and remembers this moment with a mix of pride and awe.
Raymond was one of many who highlighted positive things that have happened in the wake of Pulse, namely the many fundraising efforts he’s been part of. He has done this in his work at Southern Nights, but he’s more impacted by the personal connection he has with Victor. The money he helped raise for Victor enabled him to purchase a food truck for his family in Orlando.
Tattoo by Jessi Lee at The Design Lab, Orlando, FL
Mural by Track Shack staff and volunteers
Erin is gregarious, positive, and inspiring. Her tattoo joins a patchwork of others, many related to the Dave Matthews Band. Erin loves DMB, and after Pulse she sold ribbons at shows to raise money for the One Orlando Fund. She moved to Orlando eleven years ago, and initially worked at Disney, where she met Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor, and Xavier Serrano Rosado, one of the 49.
In those scary weeks following Pulse, Erin spent as much time as she could driving supplies from The GLBT Center to local hospitals and blood banks. She helped raise money for Xavier’s funeral, and bought his son presents for Christmas. Erin chose to get her tattoo for many reasons, but ultimately to honor her friend and community. She chose the infinity and Orlando Strong elements, and tattoo artist Jessi Lee from Design Lab added the rainbow watercolor.
The proceeds from Erin’s tattoo went to charity, and she wears it proudly on her forearm. Erin works at the drive thru window for Starbucks, and has been overwhelmed with compliments and requests to take photos of her tattoo. She still visits Pulse often and remarked, “I feel comfort there. You can be crying on the sidewalk and someone will come up and give you a hug.” Erin and I left as friends, with a hug.
Tattoo by DJ at Divine Torture Tattoo Studio, Orlando, FL
Mural by Marla Mirabel
Daniel has lived in Florida since he was eleven. He’s moved around the state, but was always drawn to Orlando. Daniel’s feelings for Orlando deepened in the aftermath of Pulse. He says, “If there’s anything good that came out of the bad, it did make Orlando where I want to stay. It made it home. Seeing 50,000 strong come out that next Sunday to be there, and to just see the community come together, it did make it home. Whether I am a native or not, Orlando is home now.”
Daniel lost five friends that night, including Eddie Sotomayor. Daniel reflected that Eddie “wasn’t just someone I met at the club, he’s been to my house & stayed over, he had been a part of my life.” In total, Daniel lost five friends that night. He knew immediately that he wanted to get a tattoo to honor those friends he lost. The two flags in the ribbon represent that the LGBTQ community is not separate, and that this attack didn’t just happen to the gay community. The tattoo also has 49 birds, and the birds that are touching represent the couples who lost their lives that night.
Daniel never thought he would be comfortable having a rainbow tattoo in such a visible spot. He has been out more than half his life, but in public he “got really good at playing the pronoun game.” That changed for him when Pulse happened. Although he’s always been involved in the LGBTQ community, especially with his softball league, he said, “It was time to stop hiding.” Daniel made a brave step when he sent photos of his wedding to his entire company. Now that he’s publicly out, he’s not turning back.