Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The week after the shooting in Orlando was an emotional one. Going to Chris's funeral was not easy. The church was full of shocked people still struggling to understand what happened. I ran into a few friends from high school and we got to catch up and share memories of Chris. 

I have to admit I had some concerns about going. The Westboro Baptist Church had members that were going to picket the funeral. That would never have prevented me from going but it was upsetting to think that anyone would go so far as to disrupt a funeral. When I got out of my car I saw a crowd and prepared for the worst. Luckily, the crowd was actually people from Orlando who were counter protesting the Westboro Baptist Church. They were covered in rainbow colors and had signs spreading messages of love. Some even wore angel wings to block the hateful messages from the funeral goers. Between the large crowd and their singing of Amazing Grace I never saw or heard anyone from the Westboro Baptist Church. 

I found out later that there were over 300 counter protesters from the City of Orlando and only four people from the Westboro Baptist Church. Apparently they left after only one hour because they were completely overwhelmed. 

The following day the City of Orlando held a vigil at Lake Eola Park. 

The crowd beginning to gather. 

The memorial at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. 

People wrote loving messages in the sand outside the center. 

The memorial for Chris and his boyfriend Juan. 

In the wake of this whole mess I was immensely proud of my city. We had come together in overwhelming support of each other. As a whole, we had made it clear that we would continue to fight for LGBT rights. This is our City and we will not stand for hate. That left a huge impression on me. 

Between loosing Chris, struggling with the funeral and feeling a great since of pride in Orlando, I was a powerful mix of emotions. I decided I wanted to be marked on the outside the way I felt marked on the inside. 

The things that stood out to me the most were love, compassion, and the fight for equal rights. I loved the geometric heart design featured on hundreds of shirts around town.

I took my idea to Little Joe's Primrose Tattoo Parlor and they helped me come up with a gorgeous design.  

It was so much more than just loosing Chris. It was about the amazing person that he was. The way he fought for others. Spending the day on Amber's couch crying and eating mac and cheese. All the texts and calls I got from friends who were okay. Its about walking to a funeral surrounded by strangers willing to keep you shielded. It's about the way this entire city fights for equality in all its rainbow coated glory. Its working for two jobs and how they both embrace diversity unapologetically. It was about letting yourself hurt so you had the strength to make it better. So the inside can match the outside.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Christopher Andrew Leinonen

I met Chris back in high school. I had originally become friends with Amber who introduced us. The first memory I have of him is walking home with me and Amber. 

Tragically, Chris (or Drew as he preferred to be called more recently) lost his life in the Pulse shooting in Orlando on June 12th, 2016. 

What I remember about him the most is his distinctive voice, his phenomenal wit, and his courage. He started the Gay Straight Alliance at our High School. Amidst push back and ridicule he went forward with the group. Not only was he determined to be himself, he brought more awareness to issues within the LGBT community. He made it safer and more comfortable for others who were struggling with themselves or their families. He was a wonderful man and I have always been immensely proud of him. 

I scoured through my old high school photo albums and found my favorite memories of him. 

The first photo I have of Chris from Fall 2001. He is standing between Tricia (left) and Amber (right).
Hanging out in my room after school singing to whatever song we had on the radio. 
Chris and Amber at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art. 
Chris and I posing in front of some sculpture. 
Shenanigans at McDonald's
One of my favorite memories of Chris. We went trick-or-treating. It was a spur of the moment decision and we scrambled to pull our costumes together. He randomly gathered a bunch of bright clothes together to make a clown outfit while I wore all black and witch hat. After we had been out for a while we got tired of telling people that we were a clown and a witch so whenever we got asked we jokingly told people that we were Elton John and Barbara Streisand.
After we were done trick-or-treating we felt like it was still too early to go home so we went to the Target in Largo Mall. We sat in the food court area and filled up on candy. We got one of the Target employees to take a photo of us. 
Before we headed home he took off his costume and I caught him off guard when I took this photo of him getting in his truck. I always loved his expression in this photo. 
After school in the courtyard with Chris, Amber, and Tricia. 
Chris, Tricia, and myself. 
Chris and I goofing around in children's playground at Walsingham Park. We were never too big or too mature. This has always been one of my absolute favorite photos from high school. 
On another trip to the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art.
Tricia, Chris, and Amber
Niasya, Chris, and my sister Jennifer at one of Amber's many amazing house parties. 

Chris and I somewhere in St. Petersburg.
Amber and Chris
Chris, Niasya, Amber and myself during another one of Amber's house parties.
Forth of July 2009 Chris, Amber and I went to downtown Orlando for the fireworks.
Chris and Amber laughing while he tried to take a photo of her.