On June 12th, 2016 the worst mass shooting in American history happened at a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida. A gunman targeting the LGBTQ and people of color community entered Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people and injured 53 others in what was once considered a safe place. Forty-nine families have lost their loved ones. Fifty-three people have sustained injuries that have changed their life forever. These numbers alone are staggering.
Early into the week I personally signed an online petition to the White House demanding assault rifle reform; it felt like the only thing I could do. I was both sad and angry. As I logged onto Facebook Tuesday evening I noticed an outcry from my LGBTQ friends – posts begging for support and understanding as they reeled in the aftermath of a crime committed against themselves. I realized I lost sight of the need to support the LGBTQ community in my immediate anger. What happened at Pulse wasn’t as seemingly random as the mass shootings we’ve become so painfully commonplace in our country. I myself lost a high school classmate at Virginia Tech in 2007. My anger for our accessibility to weapons fogged my vision as to what the community was truly dealing with.
As a photographer, I’m actively involved (or at least watching) the discussions that happen in many industry specific Facebook groups. I’m a member of the Rising Tide Society, The Candid Women, Pixieset, and numerous local New York City groups. I decided to see if other photographers were interested in this pay-it-forward initiative and sent out posts to a handful of groups.
Within hours, I received tremendous interest. A closed Facebook group was created by that evening with graphic designers creating logos; polls about social media hashtags were under way. A few members questioned my original initiative on simply offering free sessions and wondered if there were ways we could actually fundraise for the Pulse victims. Brainstorming happened. Spreadsheets were born. On Wednesday June 15th, just hours after it’s inception Photographers for Orlando became official.
Our template is simple and can be used by others for any number of fundraising initiatives. We chose two online charities that support Pulse victims. Our clients donate to either OneOrlando.org or gofundme.com/pulsevictimsfund and show us their receipts. If they prefer to pay us in cash, we will show the client our donation receipt. To be involved with the database, you must simply be willing to offer at least one fully pro-bono session to the LGBTQ community or allies. That’s all it truly breaks down to.
I have learned a lot through my involvement with Photographers for Orlando. Most importantly, I’ve realized that my creative talents can translate into a proper fundraising platform. I personally cannot afford to donate much money to charities out of my own pocket, but by using my skills as a photographer to trade for donations has allowed me to be apart of a larger financial sum. Last weekend alone I photographed three mini sessions which amounted to $320 donations between the two charities – easily ten times the amount I’d otherwise be able to give.