In October of 2014, Terry DeCarlo started work as Executive Director of the GLBT Center in Orlando. Two years later, DeCarlo found himself in the middle of one of the worst tragedies in American history. DeCarlo, 53, is a married gay man, New York native and U.S. Air Force veteran. He took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer seven questions from South Florida Gay News on the eve of the one year remembrance of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre.
What life experiences prepared you for that moment?
There is nothing in the world that could have prepared us for this tragedy. I was in the military, you are trained to deal with certain situations, to deal with conflict, but even that could not have prepared me for what happened here in Orlando, plus the onslaught of events and the outpouring of love from around the world that followed.
What advice would you give the next guy that faces it?
Stay calm, think things through (as hard as that sounds because things are happening so fast and your head is spinning), and make sure you are getting the correct information from higher ups including Mayors, Chiefs of Police, and Sheriff’s in order to disseminate. The public will want to see a familiar and friendly face giving them information and you need to make sure the information you are giving out is correct. On The Center side, have a team you can rely on and trust, you are going to be pulled in a million different directions and the ability to delegate down to, hopefully, make sure nothing falls through the cracks is crucial. The community is looking to you for leadership, and you will need a good team to make that happen and free you up to do what you need to do.
How has dealing with this changed you?
The Pulse tragedy completely changed my life, my way of thinking, and my overall outlook on things. I find myself, when we do go out, not venturing more than 10-20 feet away from a door when inside a club, I find myself always needing to know who is around, I scan the room, I look for security, I look for exits, I jump when a glass is dropped, but on another more positive note, I have learned to not take things so seriously, to make more time for my family, and one of the most important lessons I learned, and this goes for everyone, never, ever forget to tell your friends and/or loved ones how much they mean to you and never leave the house without saying I love you because you never know what might happen in an instant.
Who alerted you to this tragedy and who did you turn to for moral support?
Our phones started going off immediately a little after the shooting began, they wouldn’t stop. We, Bill and I, got right down to the club where we were met by the police who escorted our car to an area about 3 blocks from the site. Bill, my husband of 21 years, was my rock, my savior, my confidant, and the person who was there to pick me up when I would turn to jello and just want to sit and cry. He is an incredible person and my love for him is endless. Patty Sheehan, our Orlando City Commissioner was another rock, we did so much work together that week that I now consider her my work wife, we held each other up and were able to cry together but at the same time get some amazing things done quickly, add to these two individuals to the many community members, center executive directors, and people from around the world who flooded my cell phone with messages of love and support that it truly was overwhelming, but such a heartwarming feeling to know help and guidance would just be a phone call away from so many.
Did you feel let down and/or disappointed in the government's response?
I don’t think I felt let down or disappointed, I felt angry at times because of all the red tape that things needed to go through. That being said, I know there are procedures and they must be followed, but in the time of a crisis situation like this, you want things to be able to happen at the drop of a hat and when that doesn’t happen you feel angry, but that dissipates quickly when you take a second, calm down and really think about it.
Why did this happen?
Eight little words “Because a madman had hate in his heart.”
How can we make sure it never happens again?
We cannot….this is going to happen again, I wish I had a crystal ball so I could tell you where and when, but I don’t which is why we all need to be aware of our surroundings and if you hear something, say something. You never know if something you hear might be the catalyst to stopping [something] significant like this from happening. But again, this is going to happen again, which is why I reiterate my point above, let your loved ones and friends know how much you care about them and remember to say I love you. You never know when something might happen in an instant.