Remembering Pulse: The Dru Project Holds Its Second Annual Memorial Event

On Sunday evening, The Dru Project held its second annual memorial party and fundraiser to announce scholarship winners and commemorate the victims of 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. Hosted by Jonathan Bennett of Cake Wars and Mean Girls alongside his partner Jaymes Vaughan, a host of Access Hollywood, the night featured a vocal performance by original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy cast member Jai Rodriguez, and the poetry of Azure Antoinette.

The Dru Project, formed in June 2016 following the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, honors the memory of Christopher Andrew Leinonen (Drew), his partner Juan Ramon Guerrero, and the other 47 victims of the attack. Pulse was one of the deadliest mass shootings by a single shooter in American history and the deadliest single incidence of violence against LGBTQ people in the U.S.

The Dru Project is an LGBTQ advocacy organization that aims to spread love across the U.S., promote school gay-straight alliances (GSAs), and help send future leaders to college. Reflecting on the last two years since the organization's launch, Dru Project Vice President Brandon Wolf addressed their supporters. Wolf remarked, "thanks to your continued generosity, we have now raised over $100K to support LGBTQ+ youth, sponsored ten GSA programs in Florida, travelled to nine states to speak out on behalf of the community, introduced our first LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, built partnerships with leading national organizations and awarded tens of thousands of dollars in college funding to future leaders." This year, The Dru Project will launch a gay-straight alliance curriculum and distribute it to high schools throughout Florida.

Sunday’s fundraiser also honored The Dru Project’s 2018 Spirit of Drew Scholarship winners. This year, the organization gave more than $15,000 to student activists who have shown a desire for unity, inclusion, and love, much like Drew did. Shawn Chaudhry, the organization’s co-founder and president of the board, feels that by empowering young activists like these, they are able to keep Drew’s spirit alive. This year's scholarship winners were Austin Hopkins of Northern Ohio University, Alyssa Sileo of Drew University, Courtney Ring of the University of Central Florida, James van Kuilenberg of Dickenson College, and Kristin Moorehead of the University of Florida.

"The hard-working, passionate, and smart volunteers who run The Dru Project are helping countless LGBTQ young people in Florida and around the country," remarked Rich Ferraro, GLAAD's Chief Communications Officer, who attended Sunday's memorial. "The students who received this year's scholarships were inspiring in so many ways and will no doubt go on to bring unity and inclusion to their college campuses and beyond." 

Drew’s mother, Christine, recently accepted the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Journalism - Newsmagazine awarded to Anderson Cooper for his 2017 special report, “The Pulse of Orlando: Terror at the Nightclub.” Christine appeared in the special to speak about her son and her ongoing work to help LGBTQ youth.

A number of organizations are hosting events around Orlando this month to remember and honor the victims of Pulse. Organizations like The Dru Project live on to ensure that those lost at Pulse will never be forgotten - a true testament to the power of the LGBTQ community and allies to rise up in the face of great tragedy to foster change and create a better future for generations of LGBTQ people to come.

Since the Pulse shooting, GLAAD has partnered with local activist groups in Florida to create media guides for how to talk about Pulse and LGBTQ issues in southern states. For more information, please use GLAAD’s Media Guide: How to Talk About Pulse Two Years Later, which is also available in Spanish, as well as Southern Stories: A Guide for Reporting on LGBTQ People in Florida.