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Barbara Poma was born in 1968 and raised in Coral Springs, Florida. After graduating from the University of Central Florida, she taught writing, debate, and drama for three years before marrying restauranteur Rosario Poma, with whom she has two children and a stepdaughter. Barbara and Rosario built and operated several businesses. Most significantly, they opened Pulse nightclub in 2004 as a tribute to Barbara’s brother John, who had passed away from complications from HIV/AIDS. 

Pulse nightclub was embraced by the global LGBTQ+ community for the club's culture of love, and providing a venue where the LGBTQ+ community and their families could be themselves. 

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub became the scene of one of America’s worst mass shootings. Along with the rest of the world, Barbara was rocked into a new and unimaginable reality permeated with immeasurable grief and loss.

With Pulse now permanently closed, Barbara shifted her focus to preserving the memory of the 49 lives lost, the survivors, and first responders. With the support of her family, her friends, and the Orlando community, Barbara helped found and now serves as CEO of the onePULSE Foundation, a non-profit organization established to honor and preserve the legacy of all those affected by the Pulse nightclub tragedy. OnePULSE’s mission is to create and support the National Pulse Memorial and Museum: a memorial that opens hearts, a museum that opens minds, educational programs that open eyes, and 49 permanent scholarships that open doors. The project also includes the Orlando Health Survivors Walk, which will trace the three-block journey many victims and responders traveled the night of the tragedy to reach Orlando Regional Medical Center. The memorial, museum, and survivors walk are projected to break ground in 2021. 

Barbara has been awarded the 2020 Publisher’s Award from the Orlando Business Journal’s ‘Women Who Mean Business’ Awards, 2019 Business Leader of the Year Award from the MBA Pride Chamber of Commerce, 2019 Summit Award from the Women’s Resource Center, and 2019 Public & Community Service Award from The Atlantic Institute. She was also named one of NBC Universal's 2018 Change Makers, received the 2018 Point Foundation Leadership award, recognized as Ally Ambassador of the year for the 2018 LGBT Allies Diversity Summit, and 2017 LGBT Champion of Equality at the Harvey Milk Diversity Awards. 

In person, Barbara displays quiet warmth and determination. Not surprisingly, there’s a sadness in her eyes – a sadness borne of horror, of seeing an unspeakable event unfold within the business she founded to honor her brother. In her own way, Barbara is a survivor, deeply determined to make love, not hate, the last word in the story of Pulse nightclub.
Jessica Keller: [00:00:00] Speeding.
Jessica Keller: All right. And sound speed.
Mason Funk: Excellent. Thank you for making time today.
Barbara Poma: Of course.
Mason Funk: Could you start by stating and spelling your first and last names?
Barbara Poma: Barbara Poma, B-A-R-B-A-R-A P-O-M-A.
Mason Funk: Okay. This little dog over here... Gabby will you let us know if his collar begins to interfere?
Barbara Poma: You can clip it right off him. Just take it off him.
Mason Funk: Oh, that's a good idea.
Speaker: Okay.
Barbara Poma: Yeah, just un-clip it.
Mason Funk: There we go. That way the dog can walk around freely.
Barbara Poma: He'll be much happier if you take it off of him anyway.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Okay. And then-
Speaker: [inaudible] You are free.
Mason Funk: This is just for the background. Can you tell us where you were born and the date-
Speaker: [inaudible]
Gabby: Put it on the table right there. Just so [inaudible]. There you go.
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Justin: Dog behind you?
Gabby: He does not move.
Justin: Okay.
Jessica: Okay.
Mason Funk: Date of birth and place of birth.
Barbara Poma: I was born November 25, 1968 in New Milford, Connecticut.
Mason Funk: Okay dokey. So what was your family like?
Barbara Poma: We were a standard-
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Sorry. Do me a favor. I know you ask a question... Weave my question into your answer. So, "My family was..." Oh, that's not going to work.
Justin: Yes. That's not going to work.
Barbara Poma: You're going to have to go somewhere else, into another room.
Gabby: Gino. Come here.
Barbara Poma: Sorry about that.
Mason Funk: That's all right. Hi, Gino.
Gabby: Hey.
Mason Funk: Yeah, go back over with Gabby. You were so happy over there.
Gabby: I know.
Barbara Poma: I would put them in the laundry room, but then they will bark.
Mason Funk: Right.
Gabby: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: So, I'll leave them out here.
Mason Funk: We'll figure out a way to get them to settle down.
Gabby: Yeah, he'll be good right here.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: Okay.
Gabby: I wasn't paying attention.
Mason Funk: So, "My family was..."
Barbara Poma: [00:01:30] Oh, okay. I see what you're saying.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: So my family was a stereotypical Catholic Italian family. From New York, who moved us to Connecticut when I was a young girl. That's where I was born. And my brother and sisters were born in New York. And so when I was about 9 or 10, we moved to Florida.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Now tell me who else was in the family in terms of kids, besides yourself.
Barbara Poma: [00:02:00] So I have three brothers, a sister, and a half sister. And my two older brothers, James and John... James is, I think, 10 years older than me. My sister, Lisa is 9 years older than I. And my brother, John was 4 years older. And my younger brother, Mark is 9 years younger than I am.
Mason Funk: Oh okay. That's a big spread there.
Barbara Poma: We are.
Mason Funk: So I know your brother, John was really, really important to you. Can you tell us about him? What he was like as a big brother and the relationship you guys had growing up.
Barbara Poma: [00:02:30] My brother, John, was my polar opposite. I was the rule follower of the family. And he was the breaker of every rule possible. So he had incredible wit. He used to play games and do mad libs and put the funniest words in there. And he'd rewrite songs. And he was always just this nuclear fun part of our family who kept everyone together. As a big brother, he was the person who used to walk me to the bus stop when I was a little girl,
Barbara Poma: [00:03:00] and torture me along the way, of course, because he found a lot of humor in that. But he was the closest to me in age. So he was the one I grew up with mostly.
Mason Funk: And when did his being gay come... When did you know? How did that all happen in terms of you finding out, your family finding out? And what was that process like for your family?
Barbara Poma: [00:03:30] When I was in middle school, I want to say seventh grade, possibly sixth. But I think it was seventh grade because I remember exactly what classroom I was sitting in. But I had learned that my brother was gay earlier. But my first memory of it was when I was sitting in the classroom and I remember someone standing up... A friend of mine standing up and saying, "Your brother's gay." And pointed at me in front of the whole class. And it was humiliating. I remember going home and crying. So that was my personal experience with it. It being almost as if I was outed. Although it was him being outed.
Barbara Poma: [00:04:00] And my family was outed. And so that was, to me, something that stuck in my brain. But in my family unit, I'm not sure when John told everyone. I just remember a huge discourse in my family. I remember my father not being accepting. And it was a pretty physical response to... I remember my dad being upset with my brother. Even when John was sick with his HIV complications, my dad was not...
Barbara Poma: [00:04:30] He just never really accepted John. He didn't. And my older brother, James was never really understood or accepting. We were just this... Like I said, a very stereotypical Italian Catholic family. And coming out was not something you could do peacefully in our culture.
Mason Funk: Wow. So John was obviously fighting... I wonder how you said, "He had this natural instinct to be the life of the party, to be very who he was." But obviously against a certain amount of opposition within the family.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] How do you think he made his way? If you can try to tell us what you think he experienced as he figured out he was gay, as he came to terms with his parents not being very accepting. What route did he follow?
Barbara Poma: I think John had a really rough time of it. We're talking about the 80s in South Florida. So I remember John sneaking out in the middle of the night to go down to the bars in Fort Lauderdale. I remember my mom going to get him out of those bars in Fort Lauderdale.
Barbara Poma: [00:05:30] I remember him sneaking back in the house and her finding him. I think John was just going to be who he was, whether the family accepted him or not. I know he did not complete high school. He wound up getting a GED because going to school was just some place he did not fit in. And it was really hard for him there. I remember before he quit school, that he would call me and say, "Barbara, go out to the mailbox and get my report card. And make sure you hide it from mom." And I'm like, "All right."
Barbara Poma: [00:06:00] And then of course he would try and change the grades on it before he gave it to her. But school was not a good place or a happy place for him. Although I do remember him being in one theater production. But like I said, he wound up just leaving school and getting his GED.
Mason Funk: And you, in the meantime were the rule follower. How did your relationship evolve as you became a teenager, maybe? You, probably, in high school were almost like a star student, I would imagine. Is that right?
Barbara Poma: Average.
Mason Funk: Good student.
Barbara Poma: But good student, yes.
Mason Funk: [00:06:30] Yeah. So in the meantime John is out, kind of going crazy. Not in a bad way, just living his life. How did that affect your relationship? How did your relationship evolve?
Barbara Poma: I don't think that my temperament and his coming out were an issue in our family, or for my relationship with my brother. It actually made it stronger because he would try to push me to do things I didn't want to do. And he would do these crazy things. And I'd say, "Just, why do you have to make mom so mad? You know you'll get in trouble. And she's going to do this." And he would just look at me and say,
Barbara Poma: [00:07:00] "What is the worst she's going to do? Ground me? Smack me?" He's like, "She's always going to love me. There's nothing she can do about that. So just do whatever you want, Barb and just deal with it." And I'd say, "No. You cannot do that." But we just have different ways of dealing with our... How do I say, our... With our parents, parented us, so.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah.
Gabby: Hey, Mason?
Mason Funk: Yes.
Gabby: Can I check on her mic real quick?
Mason Funk: Sure, sure.
Gabby: It's getting a little [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Sure.
Barbara Poma: Is my hair in the way?
Gabby: [00:07:30] No. I don't think it's your hair. It could just be this. This is a really light, delicate material. [crosstalk].
Justin: I'm trying to walk as fast as I can, running all over the place, making noise.
Jessica: [inaudible]. It's a full time job.
Barbara Poma: You're on dog watching duty.
Jessica: Oh yeah.
Barbara Poma: Sorry.
Jessica: No, no.
Mason Funk: Production assistant/...
Justin: [00:08:00] Dog sitting.
Mason Funk: Dog sitting.
Justin: Dog whisperer.
Mason Funk: Dog whisperer, exactly.
Barbara Poma: Whisperer.
Gabby: All right, I'm good.
Jessica: Still speeding.
Mason Funk: So...
Gabby: [inaudible].
Jessica: Oh, you know what-
Gabby: A little bit?
Jessica: I think, maybe. Barely. If that's-
Gabby: I see [crosstal].
Jessica: -what I'm looking at, it's a sliver.
Gabby: Okay. So see it from my angle, it's a little slanted. [inaudible].
Jessica: [00:08:30] Yeah.
Gabby: Is that good?
Jessica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Gabby: All right.
Mason Funk: So when did you find out that John was HIV positive?
Barbara Poma: He told me. I was in high school when John told me he was HIV positive. It's another one of those moments you'll never forget. He was driving the car. And we were at a crossroads in our hometown. And I remember him and I talking about our parents separating
Barbara Poma: [00:09:00] and getting back together, or however they were in their marital status at that time. And he said, "Well, I told mom and dad that I was HIV positive." I said, "What? Why would you say such a thing?" He's like, "Oh, I just wanted to see their reaction." I go, "Well, I mean, I don't understand why you would even say that." I think he was testing to see what my reaction was going to be. And so shortly after that, he had told me that he did test positive
Barbara Poma: [00:09:30] and that he was told he was only a carrier. That he was HIV positive, but he was not full-blown AIDS. And the chance of him becoming full-blown AIDS was slim to none because that's what they had told him, at the time. We're talking really early on when they started just doing the testing. And so John was tested very early and tested positive from the very beginning.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about that time. Before situating this conversation with John in the car, in terms of what was going on visa vi knowledge of AIDS.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] If it even had the term AIDS yet. If it was considered... Of course there was a lot of social stigma. If it was considered a death sentence. What was going on as context for this conversation when he tested this out with you?
Barbara Poma: At the time when John had told me he was HIV positive, it was, I want to say, about 1984 in South Florida.
Barbara Poma: [00:10:30] And so all I had ever learned is that he was going to die. And everyone died. Everyone was dying. It was a gay epidemic. We didn't know how it got into our country, how it was brought here, how it was being transmitted. It was almost as if they should be quarantined. But mostly for us, it just meant that you were going to die. And that's all we knew.
Mason Funk: Do you believe him when he told you, "I'm just a carrier," or do you think he was telling you that to spare you?
Barbara Poma: [00:11:00] I never wondered what that meant to be a carrier or to not be a carrier. When John told me that, I believed him.
Mason Funk: Oopsies, sorry.
Justin: Oh, no.
Mason Funk: Oh my goodness.
Justin: Come back here.
Barbara Poma: [inaudible], go lay down. Does someone want to get him a biscuit?
Mason Funk: [crosstalk].
Justin: A biscuit? Where?
Barbara Poma: A biscuit. Come on.
Mason Funk: Is that what he does when he wants a biscuit? [inaudible].
Justin: [00:11:30] Where are they at?
Barbara Poma: Okay. Go in straight towards that broad iron gate, straight ahead. Want a biscuit, buddy?
Mason Funk: Go this way, go this way.
Barbara Poma: Come on, go get a biscuit.
Mason Funk: Go this way, go get a biscuit.
Barbara Poma: All right, open that gate right there. Right in front of you.
Justin: [inaudible].
Barbara Poma: Down low, first shelf. First shelf, right there in front of you.
Mason Funk: Your dog is kind of [inaudible].
Justin: [crosstalk].
Barbara Poma: Yup, that works. Yup, that'll work.
Mason Funk: Can I pick him up to lift him [crosstal]?
Barbara Poma: Oh yeah. You can do whatever you want.
Jessica: I'm [crosstal].
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] Oh, I had asked you whether you thought he told you he was just a carrier, maybe just to spare your feelings. You were reacting. You said you never really thought about that possibility before. Is that right?
Barbara Poma: It's true. When John told me he was a carrier, I believed him. We didn't know any different. We didn't know that someone could be a carrier or they could have full-blown AIDS. We just believed what he said. And I think maybe, looking back, maybe he was trying to spare us a little bit. But I've never thought about it. I just really took it at face value until we learned differently.
Mason Funk: [00:12:30] So then how did his disease progress?
Barbara Poma: I think it progressed-
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Barbara Poma: When John was diagnosed with HIV, his journey through his illness I think was normal compared to the time. AZT was around back then. That was the first big way to treat it. He was very healthy for a long time. He lived in California. He didn't want to come home. He moved out there. And he had a job working for SunTrust Bank, at a branch.
Barbara Poma: [00:13:00] And was successful. And then I can't quite remember how long it was before the first time he was hospitalized out there. But I remember going out there with my mother and taking care of him until he got out of the hospital. And then he still wanted to stay in California. And then he was well for a while. And then he started getting sick more often. So after the second time he was hospitalized there, we decided to bring him home to Coral Springs, Florida,
Barbara Poma: [00:13:30] where we were living. And so John was in the hospital there. I'm trying to think of what year that might've been. I know by early 1990, he was home and doing well. He was obviously losing a lot of weight. He was really skinny. But I had gotten married very young before my... It was a first marriage. And it was August 1990 and I wanted to make sure my brother was going to be there. So we pushed our wedding up so John could attend our wedding. At which he did.
Barbara Poma: [00:14:00] And he died shortly thereafter, in February. So I guess you would say from 1984, 85 to 1991, which was a pretty normal span at the time. We buried him. We buried his best friends. Just being in the hospitals in LA were so very different because they actually had floors full of AIDS patients. And so we would go there and it was just a floor full of boys who were all HIV positive and sick.
Barbara Poma: [00:14:30] And my mom and I would be there for a week. And they didn't have any visitors and they were always alone. And so everytime John would get flowers or someone would show up, we would make smaller bouquets and bring them around to all the other boys in the room, on the floor. And just visit with them as much as we could. And when John was brought back to Coral Springs, no one was in the hospital with HIV where we were. And so it was much like you see in the movies
Barbara Poma: [00:15:00] where they were afraid to feed him. We'd find his food in the hallway. They wouldn't bathe him, they wouldn't touch him. Wouldn't care for him. So that was something we saw first hand and lived with. It was just devastating.
Mason Funk: How did your mom deal with all this?
Barbara Poma: My mom's a warrior. My mom really took care of John every minute. Now you want to get out. Can you let them out maybe?
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] We can try it.
Barbara Poma: Yeah. Outside.
Justin: You want to let both of them out or just one?
Gabby: Oh, my goodness.
Barbara Poma: We'll see.
Jessica: Oh my goodness, so excited.
Barbara Poma: I would just leave the door open. Open.
Mason Funk: Oh that's a good idea, yeah. So they can come and go.
Barbara Poma: And then they can go in and out... Yeah, unlock. To the right.
Gabby: There we are. There you go.
Justin: [inaudible].
Barbara Poma: And just leave it open. If he wants to go, he'll go. If he doesn't, then-
Mason Funk: Yeah, just leave it.
Barbara Poma: And they won't bark. They'll just go in and out. So just leave it open for them.
Gabby: Okay.
Barbara Poma: Yeah.
Jessica: Just want to make sure my [inaudible].
Mason Funk: So that was great. But let's just start over. I love when you said your mom was a warrior. So just start that thought again once we're all settled. Okay.
Barbara Poma: [00:16:00] From the minute John started getting sick. Even before that, my mom was a true warrior. She's one amazing woman. And she took care of him until he took his very last breath. And she would fly out to California when he needed her to. She brought him home when she knew it was time to bring him home. She was an advocate in the hospital for him at all times. She never left him. I mean, she was just... Watching her go through this was extraordinary.
Barbara Poma: [00:16:30] It was a learning experience for me even though I wasn't aware of it at the time. I wasn't a mother yet. I didn't know what it meant yet to lose a child. And now that I am a mother and I look back, I don't know how she did it. I truly don't know how she did it.
Mason Funk: What is the part of how she did it that is the hardest for you to understand? How she what?
Barbara Poma: [00:17:00] I think the hardest moment for me to understand or to really comprehend her strength was John's last breaths because she and I were the two in the room with him. She was on one side of the bed holding one hand and I was on the other side of the bed holding his other. And John had... He had pneumocystic pneumonia so they told us his death was going to be very violent. So we were waiting for this point where he would asphyxiate, where he would really just not be able to breathe,
Barbara Poma: [00:17:30] we'd watch him suffocate. And so because we were anticipating that and John was very peaceful, we didn't realize the time was near. And somehow my mother instinctively knew. And John was just breathing really deeply. And she just leaned over to him and told him it was okay to go. And I was panicking. I'm listening to her say goodbye to her son. And I'm listening to her say, "It's okay, John. It's okay to go."
Barbara Poma: [00:18:00] And I remember looking at her and I was panicking. And I was like, "No. What are you saying to him? Stop it. It's not okay." And she just looked at me and she just kept telling him and telling him. And then he just took his last exhale, calm as could be. There was no violence in his breathing. And he just took his last breath.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's quite a testament, yeah. Well kudos to your mom.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] So I'm guessing about 10 years later. Maybe longer, maybe shorter. But you had the idea to open a club in John's memory. How did that come about?
Barbara Poma: In the-
Mason Funk: And tell me a little bit where you were at in your own life because you had a life independent of John.
Barbara Poma: I did. After John died, I was in college. Actually, I just graduated college in August of 1990.
Barbara Poma: [00:19:00] And he died in February of 1991. So I was newly married. I was a school teacher. And so I had to get back to life. I was teaching high school kids. Came back to Orlando to do that. Well shortly thereafter I wound up getting divorced. But during that time period in my life, I really dedicated a lot of time to working with the local nonprofits here. Seriously. Sorry.
Gabby: It's okay.
Barbara Poma: Gino, get down.
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] Okay, just back up. Just during that time I worked with the nonprofits.
Barbara Poma: During that time I worked with the local nonprofits that were HIV bounded. And doing work in there whether it'd been babies who are born HIV positive, it was some boys who were sick, but needed food delivered to them. I would deliver food. So I was just kind of really working in that realm while I was teaching school. It was just part of my volunteer time. I progressed later into becoming a board member with the Hope and Help Center here in Orlando, which is HIV education programming here and took care of a lot of the HIV-infected community.
Barbara Poma: [00:20:00] And then I wound up meeting my husband in 1993. And by 95, we were married. And my husband has a restaurateur. And he was self-made. And I left teaching and went to work with him. And during those years, we were just a great working team. One of our restaurants wound up opening in downtown Orlando. And there I met my newest gay best friend. And so Rosario,
Barbara Poma: [00:20:30] my husband had met them, introduced us, and Ronnie and I hit it off completely. And I want to say the year 2001 or so, Ron had mentioned to Rosario, it'd be really great to open a gay bar in Orlando. A really beautiful gay bar. And would Rosario want to do that? And so my husband said to me, "Do you want to do that?" And I had three young kids at the time. I had my son, was born in December of 2001. And my daughter was only 5 years old.
Barbara Poma: [00:21:00] And my other daughter was about 13 or so. So I was just like, "Well I have small kids. I'm still working at the restaurants and doing my work there. So let's see." And he's like, "Would you want to do it?" I said, "Yeah, I'd love to do it. It'd be a lot of fun." So my husband was generous enough to fund it and let us do it.
Mason Funk: I got a little confused between who Ron and Rosario are. Could you just tell that?
Barbara Poma: Sure.
Mason Funk: And you said your new gay best friend. So can you spell that out for me again one more time? Because it wasn't totally clear to me.
Barbara Poma: [00:21:30] Where should I go back to start from?
Mason Funk: Who are you married to? Ron or-
Barbara Poma: Rosario. I'm married to Rosario.
Mason Funk: You're married to Rosario. Ron was...
Barbara Poma: My friend.
Mason Funk: Your friend who was gay, who was the restaurateur.
Barbara Poma: No, we're the restaurateurs.
Mason Funk: Oh, you are the restaurateurs.
Barbara Poma: Yes.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Barbara Poma: All right.
Mason Funk: So maybe you can start by saying, "At this point I was remarried to Rosario. And I had this best friend, Ron."
Barbara Poma: All right.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] And then just kind of give us a little bit of the cast of characters in terms of how you got to open the club.
Barbara Poma: Sure. By this time in my life I had remarried my husband, Rosario, who is a restaurateur, and who I worked with all of our married life so far. And during that time, we made friends with Ronnie, who became my closest dearest friend, who happened to be gay.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. And I was Ron who said, "Let's open a club?"
Barbara Poma: [00:22:30] It was Ronnie's idea to open a club. He really wanted to always own one. And he knew we were successful in the hospitality industry, and thought it would be just a great thing to do together.
Mason Funk: Gotcha. And what part of you was excited... How did the idea come about in your own mind of making that almost like a memorial or a tribute to your brother?
Barbara Poma: When Ronnie came into my life, he really filled a void that I had missed for a long time. And so
Barbara Poma: [00:23:00] when I married my husband, Rosario, back in 1991, he and his family, for lack of a better word, were homophobic. I mean, I remember my husband actually telling me, "Please don't tell my family that you had a brother who died of AIDS." And I was like, "Well that's going to be kind of hard to hide for the rest of our lives because he was my brother. And I'm sure my mother will speak to your mother at some point in time and that's going to come up." So that was kind of the temperature of my marriage early. So when my husband met Ron,
Barbara Poma: [00:23:30] it was just this kismet of change in my husband's life. And so when I got to become so close to Ronnie, it was really like he had brought me back into a world that I had been missing for so long. And so it was an opportunity for me to become part of a community that I loved and I missed so much since John had died. And Ronnie became like a brother to me and my best friend. But he also just couldn't replace John in a way that really filled my heart.
Mason Funk: [00:24:00] Okay, good. And then you told us about how Rosario then agreed to fund the opening of Pulse.
Barbara Poma: Yes.
Mason Funk: Okay. How did you choose the name Pulse?
Barbara Poma: Choosing the name for Pulse was a really interesting happy hour, I'd say. Ronnie and I were sitting, having a glass of wine, and just kind of going through words and names and words and names. And we wanted it to be one word. And we wanted it to mean a lot of different things. And so when the word Pulse was thrown out there,
Barbara Poma: [00:24:30] Ron was like, "The heartbeat of Orlando." I was like, "The heartbeat of music." And then it was, "John's heartbeat." It was really just a word that really encompassed everything that we had envisioned. So it worked out perfectly. And I remember Ronnie just scribbling on a napkin, trying to figure out how to make that P and what would our logo look like. And so it was over a glass of wine.
Mason Funk: That's great. Okay. Good, good, good. These are great stories. Yeah, I knew the bare-bones outline,
Mason Funk: [00:25:00] but there's nothing like hearing the details. And what kind of club... Oh, my goodness-
Barbara Poma: I knew that was coming.
Mason Funk: -you're back.
Barbara Poma: Okay.
Mason Funk: You're back.
Barbara Poma: Come here. Come here, buddy. Come here. Come here, come here [inaudible]. Oh no, he can't jump up here anymore. I'm going to try and keep him away.
Mason Funk: Oh, he can't jump here.
Barbara Poma: Come here, buddy.
Gabby: Do you need to get up?
Barbara Poma: Yeah, I think-
Mason Funk: Oh, they both want to get up now.
Barbara Poma: I was going to try and him in the-
Jessica: We're cutting. [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Okay. So what kind of club-
Gabby: [00:25:30] Oh, do you want to fix your necklace?
Jessica: Oh, I didn't even notice that. Thank you.
Barbara Poma: I'm sorry.
Gabby: No, it's all good. There you go.
Mason Funk: There you go.
Gabby: Yeah, the necklace was just...
Mason Funk: What kind of club did you want Pulse to be?
Barbara Poma: When we concepted Pulse, it was really intentional-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say, "When Ron and I..." Or, "Ronnie and I."
Barbara Poma: Okay. When Ronnie and I concepted Pulse and its mission, we were really, really clear. We wanted it to be a clean, beautiful space like Orlando had never seen before.
Barbara Poma: [00:26:00] We wanted the community to be proud to bring their mother there. We wanted it to just be a place for everyone and to be exclusive, even within the LGBT community. We didn't want it to have a girls night or have just a boys night or a bear night or... We wanted it to be, you can come any night of the week. The music format may have changed every night to give you different flavors, but it certainly was open for everyone. And so it was really different for Orlando. We actually had opened it that three quarters of the bar was nonsmoking,
Barbara Poma: [00:26:30] which everyone was like, "You can't have a nonsmoking gay bar." I'm like, "Yes we can." And so we really just wanted it to be an upscale beautiful place that people would love to come to and be proud to come to. And they were.
Mason Funk: And do you remember what opening night was? Did it fulfill your vision?
Barbara Poma: It did. I mean, people-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say, "Opening night..." Oh, that plant just-
Jessica: Oh, your plant just fell over.
Mason Funk: Oh, that's okay. It's over now.
Barbara Poma: That's all right.
Mason Funk: Yeah. So tell me about opening night.
Barbara Poma: [00:27:00] Opening night at Pulse is almost like a fog because one, it was so long ago. But what I do remember is just the energy in the air and how people really... I mean, people got dressed up to come out. They just knew it was a place to be seen and that they wanted to be and they were proud to be. People used to travel from Miami, from Tampa to come over on a Friday and Saturday night. It was just amazing to see that if you built a beautiful place where this community could come, that they would come. And they'd be so excited about coming.
Barbara Poma: [00:27:30] And the energy, it was just amazing every single night. That first, probably year, it was like that. But, yeah.
Mason Funk: And how involved were you? What was your role like? Were you there every single night? How hands on were you in terms of just those early days?
Barbara Poma: In the early days, the operating kind of agreement Ronnie and I had, because I was a mom with three kids, I did all of the day work. I was the person who worked on the hiring, your payroll, your bills, the maintenance, the deposits. All of the paperwork and kind of the operating portion of business
Barbara Poma: [00:28:00] because that's what I could do when my kids were little. And Ronnie would go in there in the evening and facilitate, being the host that night. And over time that changed, but that's okay. I still went on special occasions. New Year's Eve, special fundraising events, or gay days, or Pride. And New Year's Eve and things like that. So I still went up there at least once a month at night, but not every night.
Mason Funk: Right.
Barbara Poma: I knew that was going to happen. They weren't going to last in there very long, not with all of us out here.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Yeah. Okay, let's cut again. Let's see-
Barbara Poma: Sorry.
Mason Funk: -what else can we try?
Gabby: Speeding.
Barbara Poma: [crosstalk] at 4:00.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Jessica: Speeding.
Mason Funk: All right. We'll see what we can do.
Gabby: All right.
Barbara Poma: Thank you. Sorry.
Gabby: All speed.
Mason Funk: I'll cut the things up a little bit.
Barbara Poma: Okay.
Mason Funk: Over the course-
Gabby: Oh, I see him again.
Jessica: Do you want to take him, Justin?
Justin: Yeah, I was thinking that.
Jessica: You hold him and I'll hold this boy. And we can carry them.
Justin: We each hold a dog?
Jessica: Yeah, we each hold a dog.
Barbara Poma: He's like, "I don't know where I am."
Jessica: [00:29:00] Youre so cute.
Justin: [inaudible]?
Mason Funk: Yeah, just pick him up. See if he settles in your arms. [inaudible].
Justin: [inaudible].
Barbara Poma: Yeah.
Mason Funk: So the question for when we're speeding is, just some of the things that maybe surprised you over the years of owning Pulse, before the tragedy. But just the things that happened that you couldn't have anticipated. The lessons you learned. And just start by saying like, "Over the years that I owned Pulse..."
Barbara Poma: [00:29:30] Owning Pulse for those years that we were open was... The lessons and the things that I learned, I wouldn't even know where to begin with them. I mean, mostly because the family we became, I think I hadn't anticipated that. And I didn't anticipate the staff becoming such family. All the antics that the boys did and the things that would happen after hours. And the shows that they would put on and the way they really would rally a community. How close they came to the community
Barbara Poma: [00:30:00] and how they'd become a part of it, that they would show up for all of my demands. They'd even do it when we walked in the AIDS march. And they were like, "But we don't out of there until 4:00 in the morning and we have to be there at 6:00." And show up anyway. Sometimes still in makeup, but they'd show up. So I think just seeing how we became such a family and how they really became family with the community. We had a bartender there from day one until the day we closed. And I've had so many patrons over the years say,
Barbara Poma: [00:30:30] "I would come to Pulse once or twice a year when I flew into Orlando for work. And I would walk into Pulse and Bobby would put my drink on the counter. He knew exactly who I was, he remembered me, and he remembered what I drank." And so I think it was more of life lessons of just seeing how really people can influence and help each other.
Mason Funk: And it seems like it was really a hub. Successful, thriving, almost like a magnet or an epicenter for the LGBT community in Orlando. Is that true?
Barbara Poma: [00:31:00] Pulse certainly was a different feel for Orlando when it came to gay bars. We have plenty of great gay bars in Orlando. But I think Pulse wasn't just considered just a gay bar. We had many bachelorette parties there. You had friends who brought their straight friends with them. And so it was just always a really good mix. I think the standard, it wasn't, "Oh, Pulse is a gay bar." It was a really fun bar to go to. We had business partners
Barbara Poma: [00:31:30] who whenever they had clients flying in from out of town, would come and reserve a VIP table and booth there, and entertain their out-of-town business partners, who were straight. Just because it was a great time. So I think it just became a really dynamic place where people just felt comfortable no matter who they were.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great. Okay, so now of course we have to talk about the tragedy. I want to preface this by saying, of course nobody
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] who doesn't live in Orlando can probably fathom what that has been like for the whole city. We've heard great stories today from Tom Dyer and from Patty Sheehan about how it affected the city, how it continues to pull the city together. For yourself, I don't want to ask you to take us through a beat by beat. I'm more interested in almost like impressionistic memories of what you remember of the period surrounding the shooting.
Barbara Poma: [00:32:30] When I think about June 12th, then I think about moments that stick with you. Of course, it's the phone call. And even through that phone call, trying to really understand what was being said to me. I heard what he was saying, but I couldn't understand what he was saying because just something like that could never happen there. We didn't have any violence there ever before.
Barbara Poma: [00:33:00] We didn't have any problems. And so the phone call to me sticks out, I think, because that was probably the first point of my trauma. The aftermath of that for the first 30 days are all quite foggy. What I do remember is what I don't remember, which is I didn't know what day of the week it was. I don't remember where I was. I wasn't allowed to go down to the property. I wasn't allowed to go to the hospitals to visit people. I wasn't told where the funerals were.
Barbara Poma: [00:33:30] I remember one morning, it must've been the very next day because I remember coming out here to my kitchen with a table full of people, and someone mentioning that the victims hadn't been taken out of the building yet. And I remember so vividly, breaking down, thinking they're still in there? They're still on the floors in there? Get them out. They need to go to a resting... To me, it was something that stuck with me.
Barbara Poma: [00:34:00] I think about it all the time because at that moment I'm learning that... And I do remember when my staff members brought their phone to me and said, "Look." They were trying to show me the response of Paris and all the posts from around the world. And I couldn't even comprehend that. I was like, "I don't understand what you're showing me." Like, "Look at how the world is responding for us." And I didn't understand it. I drove down I4 and saw billboards and didn't understand it because I was just so confused.
Barbara Poma: [00:34:30] And I call it my year of the fog. I mean, I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't sit in a chair for very long. I would get lost driving my car down the street. I couldn't get myself home. I didn't know where I was. I'd have to actually pull up my home address and follow the GPS to get here. So it was really, I guess, a state of shock that I was having to try and function in. And my whole life changed.
Barbara Poma: [00:35:00] But it's true that our city, everyone who lived here and even near here really had an outpouring of love and support in so many different ways. Whether they gave blood, lined up, brought flowers, held vigils, helped people move victims' furnitures out of apartments, pack them up. I mean, people really pulled together. And people who wrote music for a living, wrote songs. People who wrote poetry, wrote poetry. People who painted, painted pictures. Everyone did what they could do. If you were a lawyer, you'd help with legal problems.
Barbara Poma: [00:35:30] Everyone used their expertise to help. So I don't think you could ever imagine that that could happen, but it did happen. And it happened here. It's still happening here.
Mason Funk: Why were you not... You said you were not allowed to go to the building or to see victims in the hospital. Why? What was-
Barbara Poma: [00:36:00] When I had asked to be brought down to Pulse, when I returned, I think because it was a crime scene and the FBI were there, I think they were just so afraid of the media getting a hold of me that they wanted to keep me sheltered and keep me away from all of that. But it's really where I wanted to be, but wasn't allowed to be. I had made some phone calls because all of a sudden I had seen on TV that the funerals had started. And so I'd asked a person who was helping me, "Can I go to the funerals? How come I don't have a list of where the funerals are?"
Barbara Poma: [00:36:30] Because I think that when Pulse happened, there had never been a shooting at a private property before, a private business owner. It'd always been, sadly, a school or a government building or something more politically connected to a municipality. And Pulse wasn't. So when they were following protocol everywhere, they didn't think to include me. And so when I called about the funerals, they were like, "Oh, you don't have that?" I'm like, "No." Meanwhile, everyone else was getting to go attend, our community was attending, and I wasn't attending.
Barbara Poma: [00:37:00] So about the time I had gotten them, most of them had happened. And I did wound up going to just one service. But that bothered me. I wanted to be there. I was told I couldn't go to the hospitals because I wasn't a family member. So they were private and they also were not sure how the families were going to receive me or survivors were going to receive me there. So I was just kind of isolated. I was truly isolated. And there was nobody else sitting in the spot I was sitting in.
Barbara Poma: [00:37:30] But of course, there were people who were much more affected and devastated than I was, so.
Mason Funk: Well what strikes me is that, as you said, you were truly in a unique position that I don't think anybody who's not you can comprehend. Among so many other things, barring the weight of being the owner of the building where this had happened. And I just think to myself, how could anybody possibly comprehend what that's like?
Barbara Poma: [00:38:00] Being a private business owner and it being a place I loved, and the staff I loved, and the community I loved, it was personal. Pulse was personal for me. And so I was attached to it in ways that I wasn't attached so much to the other restaurants and businesses we had owned. Pulse was just always different. And there was no one for me to call to say, "What do you do next?"
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] Was there anybody for you to call? Were there any people or was there any one person who just at least was a safe place for you to just say whatever you were thinking, feel whatever you were feeling?
Barbara Poma: Looking back at that time and seeing who I connected with, who I was able to just cry with or sit with. My younger brother had driven up here from South Florida and stayed with me the first few days.
Barbara Poma: [00:39:00] And even though my husband was here, he was going through something too, which I think no one talks about. But he was having to handle the business side of things while I was trying to, I don't know, figure out what day of the week it was or if I had showered or brushed my teeth that day. So my younger brother, Mark came and stayed here with me. And so I couldn't sleep at night, so he'd stay awake with me. And when I wanted to cry, he would hold me, he would rock me, and hug me.
Barbara Poma: [00:39:30] And he tried to organize emails for me. And when I wanted to go to a vigil, he would drive me there. So he really was the first person who just kind of surrounded me and guided me for the first week.
Mason Funk: You talked some about heavy outpouring of people doing whatever each person individually could do.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Along the way, you made the decision... And I want to preface this by saying, coming here and talking to your people, I'm not surprised and I'm aware that of course there's been some tension. You made a decision not to sell the club to the city. That was a somewhat controversial decision. Like I say,
Mason Funk: [00:40:30] especially married to a therapist and having heard about how families in communities deal with trauma and shock and grief, there's often times a lot... There's so many emotions that come out in ways that are not neatly tied in, let's put it that way. And so there's been controversy. Tell us about the decision to not sell the club to the city. How did that come about? How did you come to that realization?
Barbara Poma: [00:41:00] My decision to not sell the property to the city wasn't something that, obviously I had planned. It's actually a really interesting story. I had many people during that time had been telling me-
Mason Funk: Oops, sorry.
Barbara Poma: Oh my gosh.
Mason Funk: Well we had a good little run there.
Barbara Poma: We did.
Jessica: We did.
Gabby: We did.
Justin: Yeah, the dogs are going to start getting rowdy.
Barbara Poma: Stop it.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: Because he went outside, now he thinks he deserves a biscuit again.
Justin: Should I get him a biscuit?
Barbara Poma: Yeah.
Jessica: Cutting.
Barbara Poma: That's what he wants.
Mason Funk: Okay. So you were going to tell us a story about the decision... By the way, Jessica?
Jessica: [00:41:30] Yeah?
Mason Funk: Barbara's sitting forward in her chair. Does that look totally fine?
Jessica: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, because if you want to sit back, you can.
Barbara Poma: [crosstalk]. Oh, no. I'm good.
Mason Funk: Okay. Good, okay. So you were going to tell us a story about the decision to not sell the club.
Barbara Poma: My decision to not sell the club is a really interesting story. Of course at first when the shooting happened, we didn't know what to do with it. We thought, okay we lost our business. It's closed down. We are at a financial straights at this point. We didn't know what to do with that. And so we had talked about
Barbara Poma: [00:42:00] what happens next. If we're going to do a memorial or a museum or the next part of the project, would we do that? Or does your city do that? Who does that? Who does that work? And so that's where the conversation started. But during this time of the first few months, people kept saying, "Barbara, are you taking care of yourself? Are you taking care of yourself?" I'm like, "I'm taking care of myself. I'm doing the best I can." And so in my brain, that meant, as a woman, you should go take care of your physical being. Like every day, you get your mammogram and every year you go for your annual check up and you go for your...
Barbara Poma: [00:42:30] So I scheduled all my doctor's appointments like a good girl because that's what I do. I follow all the rules. And so I was due for all of those and I went. And so when I went to my doctor's appointment, he looked at me and he says, "You know what? I see you in the news and I'm glad you're here." He's like, "I don't really want to talk too much about it." And I was like, "Well that's good." And he says, "But you have decisions to make." And I said, "Yeah, I know I do." And he says, "Well, you want some words of advice?" I'm like, "Sure. You can tell me whatever you want." And he said, "Whenever I have to make a really, really big decision in my life,"
Barbara Poma: [00:43:00] he goes, "I do two things. I take out the money and I take out the people and I assess the situation and decide what's right." I said, "All right." I was like, "Okay. Makes sense to me." I left there. I drove straight to Pulse. I parked the car and I sat down on the little stopper from when you park your car. And I just sat there and I looked at the building. And I said, "If I took out all the people, which were constantly talking to me, and I took out the money,
Barbara Poma: [00:43:30] and I just looked at Pulse." I was like, "It's ours. Pulse belongs to the community now. It belongs to us. It belongs here. And it belongs..." I just wasn't ready to give it up yet. It wasn't the right thing to do. And so I called my husband and told him, "I don't think we should sell it." And he was like, "Are you crazy?" And I said, "No. I don't think it's the right thing to do. I think we should keep it. I think we should do this project." And so my husband wasn't entirely happy with me.
Barbara Poma: [00:44:00] Life would've been a lot easier if I would've just sold it. But I started just reading as much as I could. And I started reading about Oklahoma City. And I started reading about 9/11 because that was the only two terrorist attacks that came to mind at the time. And I did some research. I mean, I used to be a teacher years ago. So the first thing I did is do some reading. And both of those projects were done by private foundations. I had already set up a foundation, so why not let this foundation lead that effort?
Barbara Poma: [00:44:30] And so they were not done by any municipality. They were not done by a government agency. And so it was just seemed like a natural course of order that if a foundation was going to do it, let my foundation do it. And I just felt like I knew Pulse and I knew my staff and the people who were there and the people we served for that many years. So that's why I kept it.
Mason Funk: Just when you mentioned you knew your staff, are there particular staff members like [inaudible] who survived, who you feel are still kind of partners with you in the sense
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] that they're helping you carry on the legacy? Or have they mostly kind of moved on to other things at this point?
Barbara Poma: At the time of the shooting, there were 52 people on staff, 26 who worked that night, 1 who we lost, two others who were shot but recovered. And out of the 52, I think some have moved away because it was better for them, emotionally to move away, to go home and start over. But there is a handful that we are still very close to,
Barbara Poma: [00:45:30] we still actually have a Pulse get-togethers. And we meet for happy hour and we meet for dinners. So we are still connected. The core group is still very connected. And the others who are so peripherally here and we still keep in touch on social media. We have our own private Facebook page that we talk to each other on. So we're still pretty connected with one another.
Mason Funk: Yeah. So what's your vision? I mean, I'm fascinated because I started this organization, OUTWORDS, which is a lot smaller than the one Pulse Foundation.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] But it's for me, a really fascinating process, building an organization from scratch. And you're a successful business woman. So I feel like you probably knew sort of how to create the structure, marshal your resources. But tell us what that's been like once you made the decision to move forward with planning? Kind of, what did you do next and how did you feel about it once you made the decision?
Barbara Poma: [00:46:30] Once I made the decision to keep the property and lead the efforts for the memorial museum within the foundation, I looked at it as, okay... So as a business person, my brain went, how do you make this successful and sustainable? And so because I had never built a memorial museum before, I went to the people who knew how to. And I just picked up the phone and I called them, told them who I was. And I said, "Can you help me?" And both teams, been to both Oklahoma City and 9/11 memorial museum teams build said,
Barbara Poma: [00:47:00] "Yup. Come on up." And so they set up meetings for me. And I brought a mother with me that I had met. The Orange County Regional History Center's curator had joined the task force with me. And so we went to both places and we met with their teams. And we toured their facilities. And they kind of said, "What do you need first?" I'm like, "Well I don't know, where do I start?" And they told us step-by-step, "Create a task force. Invite everybody to the table. That's the most important thing you can do, is invite every family member, survivor, first responder.
Barbara Poma: [00:47:30] And some key community people with your boots on the ground, to help you start this effort." And so we did. And we started our task force.
Mason Funk: Sorry, one second.
Jessica: Yeah.
Mason Funk: What's that?
Barbara Poma: It's the door outside.
Jessica: It's a gate.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay.
Jessica: I'll close it.
Mason Funk: If we can.
Justin: Yeah, it's that one, right?
Jessica: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: Yup.
Mason Funk: It looks like we got... The dog whisperer is...
Justin: I have a little piece of treat left now. I'm keeping him kind of just-
Barbara Poma: Feel free to just keep restocking me. Whatever it takes.
Gabby: Yeah. You need to sneak in over there at some point. These guys can actually get [inaudible].
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] Okay. So it was really super important, obviously, to get key community people, get buy-in from the entire community.
Barbara Poma: It did. So we started with a task force. And it was a really interesting process. And we talked about what do we do next and what do we want to see? So this task force did a lot of work. It created the online survey because we had been told that Oklahoma City, 9/11 did a community survey. And so people came in to help us lead how to write one. Someone from AIA came in and said, "Let's do it like this." We had an artist. So they created the survey that went online.
Barbara Poma: [00:48:30] And over 2,100 people took that survey, which started to lead us in this design process. While the task force was doing their work, I knew I had to create infrastructure. So I had needed to build a board. And I wanted to build a board that Orlando had ever seen before. Although, we're a city, we're a small city. And I wanted this project to bring people to the table who hadn't always been invited. Pulse was really different and I wanted this board to be very different.
Barbara Poma: [00:49:00] And so I met someone who was helping us with a survey online who worked at a web design company. And I just met her and I said, "Would you like to be on the board?" And she was like, "Yes." And so she knew somebody who could help me build the infrastructure. So she introduced me to Leah Sheppard, who's now my COO. And Leah's like, "Okay, I'll help you with this project. And I will help you build a board and I'll help you build your infrastructure." That was her way of giving back. She lived in Orlando. She did it, volunteered for six months to do that.
Barbara Poma: [00:49:30] And so we began. And so we began building a board and building an infrastructure.
Mason Funk: And just bring us up to date, where are you now, literally in the process? Maybe start by saying, "Well now it's October 2019. This is a little over three years after the massacre. And..."
Barbara Poma: Okay. So here we are in October of 2019, a little over three years after the shooting.
Barbara Poma: [00:50:00] The foundation has grown, I believe, into a national foundation. We are in the middle to near-end of our international design competition, which is something we've been working towards for two and a half years. And so we're going to put out, what we call, an RFQ, which is a request for qualifications, almost like resumes around the world, asking people to put together an architectural team to submit designs for this memorial museum.
Barbara Poma: [00:50:30] And so we received 68 submissions from 18 different countries, and had to narrow that down to 6 teams. And so the 6 teams have now submitted their design concepts. And by the end of October, we will have chosen one.
Mason Funk: What's your picture? When you're evaluating these proposals, what are you looking for, that will match what you envisioned?
Barbara Poma: [00:51:00] I think that when people ask me all the time, "Barbara, what is it you want? What do you envision there?" And I say, "It's not about me." And I've been saying since the beginning. Pulse became a place for everyone. It became this community's space. And so I know there's 14 people on that jury who will make the decision. But even through this exhibition time, we had private time for families to come and see it on their own. We had survivors and first responders. And then we had it open to our community for eight days
Barbara Poma: [00:51:30] and online for the world to view them for eight days and make their comments. So for me still, it's a community-driven vision. I don't have a particular favorite. I think they're all beautiful. I think they all do justice to the 49 who were taken from us. I'd be happy with any of them. But for me, what I want most is I want them to be built. I want them to be inclusive of everyone. I want it to be a space that our community is proud of. I wanted to make sure it tells a story of June 12th
Barbara Poma: [00:52:00] so that no one forgets what happens here. I won't be here to tell the story in 50 years. So someone needs to do that. And I want this institution to do so.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's funny, I get that. I mean, it seems obvious that you would say, "It's not about me." But when you're sort of the central figure-
Barbara Poma: He's going to get more treats. Shh
Gabby: Yeah.
Barbara Poma: Shh.
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] Okay. Well we're almost done. If we can get the dogs to be quiet for 10 more minutes.
Jessica: He's getting more treats.
Barbara Poma: He's getting more treats.
Mason Funk: Oh good, okay.
Jessica: I think that's what excited him a little bit.
Barbara Poma: Stop it. Do you want to go to your house?
Justin: All right. Hey, hey, I got you a treat. Come on over here.
Mason Funk: No. Over this way, over this way.
Justin: Come on. Look [crosstalk].
Barbara Poma: Go there. Go. Go lay down. Hey, I have nothing.
Mason Funk: Here comes the other one.
Barbara Poma: Hey. Look, look. Hey. Look.
Mason Funk: Here's Gino. Look.
Barbara Poma: Move over here and then... There we go. So unlike him.
Justin: [00:53:00] It's okay. There we go. Now we're [inaudible].
Barbara Poma: You're the man with the treats.
Jessica: All right.
Mason Funk: Another thing, as I mentioned earlier, that I've become aware of course, that the city's been traumatized. And people's emotions are still very, very high and deep. And so it doesn't surprise me at all that there's been some criticism about how the process has gone.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] How do you manage, how do you just keep on going and process, yourself, the fact that you've become the center of some controversy and some criticism? How do you process that?
Barbara Poma: Very early on when I met with both the 9/11 and Oklahoma City teams, they told me, "It's going to get messy. There's going to be a lot of criticism. It's going to happen." In both their projects, they had criticism. In both their projects, they had families and survivors who chose not to participate,
Barbara Poma: [00:54:00] who are still 25 years later or 20 years later, still against the projects. And they told me, "You will have people who will be with you every step of the way. You'll have people who will ebb and flow through your process. And you'll have people who never engage, not because they don't agree with it, but because they can't." And so I think what's happening here in Orlando is exactly what they told us was going to happen. I still believe in the process that we have been journeying through
Barbara Poma: [00:54:30] because I'm not recreating the wheel. I'm following the footsteps, sadly, of others who came before me. And I can see that those projects mean so much to those who've done them. And I've seen what it means, even when I bring my family to visit historic places in our country. These are learning moments. And some people may not like the process. You really can't please everyone. I'm not going to lie, the personal attacks are not something I was prepared for.
Barbara Poma: [00:55:00] But I also think that goes along with what we talk about. The foundation's part of our mission is to really have difficult conversations and to really welcome all people to the table, even if they don't agree with what you're talking about. So for me, I think it'd be great to at least have conversation before you make your mis-characterization of me. I think that people are sometimes mis-characterizing me and they haven't even met me or talked to me.
Barbara Poma: [00:55:30] So the personal part is difficult. But the process, I believe in. And so I just know you're never going to please everyone. But everyone is entitled to their opinions and their thoughts.
Mason Funk: Great. Well we have a few more minutes. And typically I finish with four questions.
Barbara Poma: Okay.
Mason Funk: The first one is, if you could tell your 13 year old self anything, what would you tell 13 year old Barbara?
Barbara Poma: [00:56:00] I would tell 13 year old Barbara that it is okay to be a nerd. It is okay to follow the rules. It's okay to be who I was. That those skills would serve me well in my lifetime. And that I shouldn't have been ashamed of being who I was. I was always a serious kid and wanted to do well. And I was criticized for not being as, maybe, fun or as easy going. But I think they were a good skill set.
Mason Funk: [00:56:30] I can totally relate to you. I was a good kid too. Sometimes you look back and wish you'd been a little wilder, but oh well.
Barbara Poma: I was good with it. I'm alright with it.
Mason Funk: Now you're not officially a member of the LGBTQ community, but you certainly had a full emergent course. What single attribute or strength would you say kind of unites or defines LGBTQ people?
Barbara Poma: [00:57:00] I don't know if I can think of one strength that unites the entire LGBTQ community because for me, as an ally, I'm from the outside looking in. I see every LGBTQ person as a human. And I think if you look at the human race, we all have strengths and weaknesses.
Barbara Poma: [00:57:30] To me, being gay does not make it any different. You're still a human being. And you have those strengths. And you have those weaknesses. I can say it's a very resilient community. But I can say that of the straight community. I can say that they are strong in their way that they create families or their sense of community, but I could say that for straight people too. For me, I think realizing they were all human
Barbara Poma: [00:58:00] and that humans have strengths and weaknesses no matter what your sexuality, your gender, your race, your creed are, are something people should start focusing on and less about labels.
Mason Funk: Great. You've obviously told and will continue to tell your story many times, I'm sure. Why are you willing to or why are you happy to tell your story?
Barbara Poma: [00:58:30] I'd say I'm willing to tell my story because it's an important part of the process, it's a part of the project for people to understand that where I'm coming from is from a place within the community. I'm just not someone who owned a gay bar. I'm not just a business woman who happened to own a gay bar. It was a passion of mine. It was a love of mine. I do it because I have to.
Barbara Poma: [00:59:00] I can tell you that I hope the day comes I don't have to tell it anymore. It's hard to tell it all the time. It's hard to relive it all the time.
Mason Funk: Yeah. And then lastly, this project, OUTWORDS, which you're now becoming a part of, thank you, is a project to criss cross America. Interviewing what we call, LGBTQ pioneers and elders and allies in every sub-community
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] and sub-sub-community of this crazy patchwork quilt we call the LGBT community. What do you see is the value of doing that?
Barbara Poma: I think the value of OUTWORDS is really recording the LGBTQ history in a way that it has never been done before. It is for people who have been doing the work on the ground and in their communities and making a difference in their own communities that sometimes grow into larger movements. But I think that I'm not old yet, I don't think.
Barbara Poma: [01:00:00] But what I have seen through my brother's life and his loss of his life and the progress since he died, is that this younger generation coming up in the community, they don't know. They don't know who's shoulders they stand on. And they don't know who walked in those shoes before they can do so, so much easier than those who came before them. They didn't know what it was like when you couldn't hold hands in public.
Barbara Poma: [01:00:30] They didn't know what it was like when you couldn't have your boyfriend to dinner. Or watching all your friends die. They just lived in a different time. And so they've had so many people who've come before them who paved that way. And I think that OUTWORDS is really going to just lead the way in capturing that history so it can be taught and expressed. And people can learn what it took to get to where we are today. And as you continue to do it and more rights get passed and more equality comes,
Barbara Poma: [01:01:00] that should be all recorded too because in 50 years from now, it's going to be a very different story to tell.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah. What do you think... I think this is my last question. What do you think is the biggest challenge that you see? Again, start it from the periphery for the LGBTQ community where we are today, kind of going forward. Whether that's an internal challenge or an external challenges. What do you think is our next big hurdle?
Barbara Poma: [01:01:30] I don't know if I'm an expert enough to tell you what I think the next big hurdle is for this community. But I think there's different ways to look at it. Is it through legislation? Are we talking about it in a political world? Are we talking about rights? Are we talking about the ability to live your life freely without fear? Or are we talking about just amongst ourselves, in our own communities because I also think that the LGBT community needs to look inward and start accepting each other in different avenues of the spectrum of all the letters.
Barbara Poma: [01:02:00] And so that I think everyone would be stronger if they just accepted each other first and then allow others to accept them. And I think that it's going to take time. I find that frequently, when I talk to people in the LGBT community. I do a lot of diversity inclusion conversations. And the people that are sitting in that room already believe in diversity and inclusion. But when I tell them, "Well as a lesbian, how inclusive are you of the gay men
Barbara Poma: [01:02:30] or the trans girls and the trans men?" And they'd just be like, "Oh." How many of those you have in your life? Right? So I think just really being inclusive all in all.
Mason Funk: Okay. It's 3:45.
Gabby: Can we have 15 seconds of room tone?
Mason Funk: Yeah. We can record the side of the room for 15 seconds. And then we'll be done.
Jessica: Okay. This is room tone.
Jessica: [01:03:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: All righty
Barbara Poma: All right.
Justin: Should've got that-

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Jessica Keller
Date: October 10, 2019
Location: Home of Barbara Poma, Maitland, FL