Generating Revenue from a Mass Shooting
The Privatization and Commodification of Orlando's Mass Shooting
Turning Orlando's mass shooting into a revenue-generating event is a problem for us.
We firmly renounce putting any price tag on the murder of our loved ones. The intention to commodify gay death is evidenced in Barbara Poma's egregious $100k+ salary, the anticipated price for museum admission, and in the sale of OnePulse Foundation merchandise through their on-line gift shop and a physical on-site retail kiosk.
In December 2016, Barbara Poma—the owner of the Pulse nightclub—declined to sell the property to the City of Orlando. Instead, she opened up a non-profit called OnePULSE Foundation, made herself CEO, and pledged to build a memorial museum. In 2018, 990s reported that she earned over $100K in this position (previously, the Orlando Sentinel reported $150k).
By not selling the nightclub property to the City of Orlando, setting up the non-profit in the aftermath of the shooting, appointing herself CEO, forming a corporate Board of Trustees, and accepting a $100k+ salary, Barbara Poma has found a way to continue making money off her LGBTQ+ patrons—even in their death and even without a business. What's worse, is that she is applauded for it, thrown millions of dollars, and has the backing of many in the community who do not see past her rhetoric of love and compassion.
The OnePulse Foundation has been given $10M of taxpayer funds from Orange County. This gives the public the right to scrutinize the organization and how it is spending its money.
There is currently a gift shop "kiosk" located on the grounds of the interim memorial. We are not sure when this was erected, although in recent private communications with survivors and family members Barbara Poma claimed that it has been there since the interim memorial opened.
Many people were not aware of the gift kiosk because it is not pictured in the OnePULSE Foundation's marketing photography and it is not visible from the street. The kiosk is located in the back of the building, near where the police breached the nightclub. The retail kiosk is also not pictured in the OnePulse Foundation's design brief either (see page 12). This is a significant omission.
In addition to the on-site shop, there is also an online store on the OnePULSE Foundation's website that sells mass shooting merchandise to generate revenue for the "non-profit" organization.
We WILL NEVER CONSENT to any effort to generate revenue from Pulse “memorabilia” for any purpose, whether that be construction costs or an individual's financial gain. We will never support a museum project that requires fetishizing the event through trinket merchandising.
Watching this continue to happen, especially in the name of a museum that we do not want, is painful and disrespectful. Any attempts to justify monetizing the mass shooting and suggesting that consumer demand or project costs justify this practice reflects a complete disregard for our feelings and wishes.
Continuing to sell Pulse merchandise even when confronted shows us that the OnePULSE Foundation is disingenuous and will do whatever it wants. The quest to make money for a museum and the organization is more important to them than we are.
We reject that OnePulse Foundation has the right to go against our wishes and place price tags on our grief—in any capacity. We also reject that any memorial/museum should be used to bring revenue to the city (see our page on the proposed tourist attraction).
We also see Hollywood fundraisers or any other extravagant events for the purposes of raising money for a museum and enhancing the OnePULSE Foundation's public profile are insensitive and disrespectful to survivors who continue to struggle in numerous aspects of their daily lives. Notoriety should not be an outcome of a donation of time, money, or services rendered.
Surely, we are not against people getting paid to do the hard work of that social justice projects require. However, we do not believe that the museum represents social justice when it diverts money away from survivors. Furthermore, there are ethical limits to financial numeration and context matters. No self-appointed leader should profit from a mass shooting and efforts to memorialize those murdered, even if that leader set up their own non-profit.
We have documented examples of how other cities have built beautiful public memorials without any compensation or financial enumeration. The City of Orlando can do the same. We can build a memorial with the utmost integrity.
Tied to the commodification of Orlando's mass shooting, is the issue of the Pulse nightclub continuing to be owned by Barbara Poma.
As a privately-owned memorial space, personal liability makes strict policing and surveillance a priority of ownership. This is a significant concern for the minority communities that been affected. LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx communities, in particular, have not only experienced long histories of discriminatory policing practices, but they continue to struggle against oppressive systems of surveillance and acts of police violence. Local LGBTQ+ people of color have already publicly voiced their concerns about increased policing in the wake of the shooting.
Yet still, unnecessary policing practices and private security forces are currently being used at the interim memorial and best serve private interests. Armed security guards police photography, access, and behavior, as noted here and posted on signs outside the interim memorial:
The policing of photography and conduct through private security forces has not been the norm in public memorial parks. It is also an injustice.
Hiring a private security force to police queer memorial space reproduces the violence that grassroots activists have been fighting against for decades. Let us never forget that the shooter worked for a private security firm. Barbara Poma and the OnePULSE Foundation should be sensitive to this fact.
The presence of armed security guards at the interim memorial threatens to intimidate and retraumatize visitors and reflects the OnePULSE Foundation's general lack of understanding of the issues facing our diverse communities. It also reflects one example of how private property allows private concerns (personal liability) is prioritized. Considering that the Board of Trustees team is mostly wealthy and white, we are not surprised by these decisions.
Under these conditions, we ask, is a sanctuary for all even possible on the grounds of the Pulse nightclub so long as it remains privately owned?
Lastly, the policing of commercial photography and claiming the exclusive rights to photographs taken on the private property substantiates our criticism that the OnePULSE Foundation actively seeks to monetize the site of Orlando's mass shooting and our collective grief.
With photographs of the memorial being used to market the involvement of private businesses owned by people on OnePULSE Foundation's leadership teams, clearly, the aim to police photography is not to quash "commercial exploitation," but rather to make the OnePULSE Foundation the sole proprietor of media generated from the property.
This also shows that the OnePulse Foundation's Marketing and Communications department has sought to control what is communicated to the public through visual media. You can see how images of the interim memorial are being used for commercial exploitation at the approval of the OnePULSE Foundation below
Any museum or memorial to be is built on the privately-owned property is unacceptable. The Pulse massacre was a tragic public event that rocked our community, the City of Orlando, and the conscience of the nation. As such, it cannot be confined to the limits of property lines, nor should one property-holder determine the fate of public memory.
An analysis of the foundation's records by the Orlando Sentinel released on 08/14/2019, stated the following:
That means $100,000 was spent on the property that Barbara Poma still owns and $150k is the salary that Ms. Poma is earning. A particular point of our criticism is not just that she is in a liability lawsuit, but that Ms. Poma has no right to build a museum, personally profit off a mass shooting to the amount of $150k, and that jobs and tourism should never be outcomes of a mass shooting. No other city in the United States has built a museum as a response to a mass shooting. The fact that this project has the mayor's backing shows that nothing is off-limits to boost the city's tourism economy. This reflects what many scholars have criticized as "necrocapitalism."
Questions we want answers to:
1. Will the OnePULSE Foundation respect our wishes and our grief and stop selling merchandise associated with the mass shooting—both on the grounds of the interim memorial and online?
2. Will the OnePULSE Foundation require all business partners and donors to sign agreements that their involvement in the project can not be used to market their business?
3. Will Barbara Poma issue a public apology for the hurt, pain, and trauma that these leadership decisions have inflicted upon our community, rather than keep defending these decisions and refusing to change?
4. Will Barbara Poma acknowledge these decisions as failures of responsible leadership and stop the museum portion of the project and/or resign as CEO of the OnePULSE Foundation?
5. What was Barbara Poma's financial situation before the mass shooting? We know that gay bars in Orlando have not always been the most lucrative businesses. What was her annual income from the bar? Is she making more now running the OnePULSE Foundation? We've noticed that in 2016, one of the Poma's restaurant locations in Thornton Park closed down and was replaced by Grafitti Junktion (but Rosario Poma still owns the property).