AIDS Healthcare Foundation honors Orlando shooting victims on 2017 Rose Parade float

A white dove, symbol of world peace, soars above a field of 49 stars, one for each of those who died. The double rainbow exemplifies promise, beauty and  enlightenment with the message of eternal hope and life. Replicas of actual messages of condolences from those who lost loved ones flutter from the Memorial Tree. Stored inside the float are more than 5,000 memorial notes from around the world. Courtesy Pasadena Tournament of Roses.


by Laura Berthold Monteros

On June 12, 2016, 49 men and women were killed and 53 others wounded in a mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse. On Jan. 2, 2017, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) float will honor the victims on a beautiful Rose Parade float, “To Honor & Remember Orlando.” It is designed by Art Aguirre and built by Fiesta Parade Floats. We spoke about the choice of theme and what it means to the community with three of the riders, Ged Kinslea, Senior Director, Communications for AHF; Gustavo Marrero, Vice President of Impulse Group Orlando; and Corey Lyons, President of Impulse Group Orlando.

Kinslea said that with 2017 being the 30th anniversary of AHF, the original idea had been to celebrate that anniversary on their annual float. “Fiesta Parade Floats reaches out early in the year and gives us the theme,” he said, but AHF doesn’t firm up a concept until July or August. “June 12 happened. As soon as that hit, we decided that should be the focus. We delegated it to Fiesta. The direction AHF gave was to “be spectacular.” AHF and Impulse Group were presented with three designs, and both agreed on the one illustrated above.

In choosing the theme, Marrero said, “Remembering and honoring those we lost in Orlando is the primary focus. Secondary is shedding light that Orlando still needs their help.” The float is a great opportunity to shed light on families, victims, and survivors of the tragedy, he said, and to honor lost lives and look to a better future. Impulse consulted with families and riders, some of whom were there that night. Joining them on the float are Orlando District Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma.

“I think something remarkable, groundbreaking about the Pulse tragedy was the community response,” Kinslea added. It came from all of Orlando and across the nation. “It was a pleasant surprise to see how supportive people were…. We would rather have had a different focus for our parade float, but we’re pleased, honored” to present a response to the event.

Impulse Group

Impulse Group is not affiliated with Pulse Nightclub, but considers the club to be a key partner in the community. The organization is primarily young gay professional men doing community service with LGBTQ people. It had regular HIV testing events at Pulse and had done an even just a couple weeks prior to the shooting. Because Saturdays were Latin nights at Pulse, the event was primarily focused on Latinos, who are disproportionately infected with HIV, Marrero said.

Lyons told us that the work Impulse is doing in Orlando with victims and families “has graduated from immediate relief to long-term relief.” Immediate needs were as fundamental as ensuring that families could properly put their loved ones to rest. Some lower-income families did not have suits or clothing for burial. “We connected with Men’s Warehouse and other retailers,” he said. Continuing needs include transportation to get to mental health services.

Helping out is as easy as texting the word ONELOVE to 74121. The texter can donate to one of three Orlando-based charities, Contigo Fund, One Pulse, or a memorial for victims. Executive Director Poma founded Pulse after her brother died from AIDS, to create a safe place for gays which would connect them with services, and will now transform it into a memorial. Readers can find out more about Impulse Group Orlando on their Facebook page.

“One thing want to make sure people know is that services are still needed in Orlando,” Lyons said. “We connect with services. The donate campaign really connects these three services—a lasting memorial, building bridges with the Latin community, mental health services.”

Doves and loss

During the planning for “To Honor & Remember Orlando,” Kinslea said he suggested to Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes that dove be released. “I’m thinking six, eight ten,” he said. “Tim said, ‘I’m going to release 49 doves.’ To capture the monumental nature of loss. Tim cleared it with the Tournament.” The doves will be released three times, 49 each time, once for the judging on Jan. 1, once in front of the television cameras on Orange Grove, and once in front of the KTLA cameras on Colorado.

“You know what I love?” he asked. “I have to give props to the Tournament. It’s not an upbeat Saturday morning cartoon float. Our floats have a stronger message,” He mentioned the 2015 float that honored doctors who had lost their lives to Ebola. “The Tournament has been a really staunch supporter. All of our floats tend to address stigma or health issues. The 123rd Rose Parade was the first time the Rose Parade dealt with AIDS.”

We asked if the float has brought attention to AHF. “I would say it has,” he replied. “It’s been one of most compelling. It’s definitely getting more media attention. This float is probably the most newsworthy float of this year.”