Despite the high temperatures and humidity, a crowd, mostly sporting tennis shoes and tank tops, showed up at Clarksville’s McGregor Park for an anniversary vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting one year ago in Orlando. Even after 7pm the sun was still shining brightly on the water, making it difficult to see clearly without sunglasses. On the large steps overlooking the Cumberland River, locals held candles while each of the 49 victims’ names were read, before observing a collective moment of silence, while kids continued to swing and play tag under parent supervision at the nearby playground.
Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan spoke of the importance of hearing the names read aloud before joining in the candle ceremony herself.
This year’s vigil, organized by the newly minted Equality Clarksville, managed to avoid talk of President Trump and current state politics, focusing instead on honoring victims and their families. The past several years have been plagued with incidents of state lawmakers working hard to pass anti-LGBT legislation. Yet the vigil was firmly apolitical, a welcome change from the usual course of things.
After each name was carefully read by Equality Clarksville leadership, everyone was thanked for participation in the vigil and informally invited to Fusion Night Club, Clarksville’s only “gay bar.”
Fusion, which opened its doors almost three years ago, is the only bar in town where residents can catch a drag show, have a beer and socialize with other members of the LGBT community in an entirely comfortable, open environment. And on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Fusion serves as the center of remembrance—the local gay bar.
Owner and Operator Buddy Wells, who was tending the bar, runs a tight ship. Sliding between conversations with customers, he kept drinks filled, water handy and talk lively. When I arrived at the bar, things were already dying down for the night and customers at the bar (several of whom were part of Equality Clarksville) were watching the evening news, which featured a story on Clarksville’s second annual Pulse vigil.
Walking into Fusion, one can't help but notice the small stage on the right where Fusion hosts regular drag shows. In the large backroom, there are pool tables with an additional bar and seating area, for those who need a break from standing for the drag show or who prefer a more low-key setting. There’s a large backyard, popular with customers when the weather is warm, which lately is most of the time.
The bar is a friendly place, and Wells likes to keep it that way. "When we named this club Fusion, we were trying to fuse all walks of life,” said Wells. “We're not concerned about race, color, gender or orientation." While recognizing that the clientele is predominantly LGBT, he refers to Fusion as an “alternative club, where everyone is welcome” as a way of reasserting the bar’s community focus.
The first anniversary of the attack at Pulse was a strong reminder of the potential danger for businesses and organizations serving the LGBT community. Reflecting on last year’s events, Wells described the fear in the local community. “This could have been us,” he said somberly.
Wells also understood he was in a unique position to show support for Orlando, raising over $5,700 for victims at Fusion’s benefit almost one year ago. “You've got to unite together as a community,” he reaffirmed.
At the far end of the bar, customer and Equality Clarksville Budget Committee Head Brian Damiani reflected on the anniversary of Pulse and the unique opportunity it presents for the Clarksville community. “I am grateful we are able to do something like this,” said Damiani. “From what I saw on the news, we were the only town in Tennessee that did a vigil that was not political. It was remembrance, to let people know we are not forgetting.”
And on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, it’s good to know there is a bar in town “where everyone is welcome.”
You can reach Thom Murphy on Twitter at @thomdit.