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Houston Gets Permanent Memorial to Pulse Nightclub Victims

Unveiling ceremony for flag pole at Tony’s Corner Pocket on April 28.

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Joshua Martinez, from left, Tony Vacarro, Miguel Charrie, and Christopher Zuniga are shown with the new flag during a fundraiser at JR’s on Sept. 1. (Dalton DeHart)

Houston activists will soon unveil a permanent Pulse Nightclub memorial in the heart of the Montrose.

In the wake of the 2016 massacre, a small LGBTQ Pride flag and a sign saying “Orlando” were erected in the median of Montrose Boulevard near Westheimer Road. However, that memorial has been repeatedly vandalized.

Three Good Samaritans who replaced the flag each time it was vandalized––Joshua Martinez, Miguel Charrié, and Jason Smith––raised the funds in September to install a 25-foot-high flag pole with a concrete base to replace the makeshift tribute. After the City denied the group’s request to install a permanent memorial in the Montrose median, the team spent months searching for a new site.

Martinez, Charrié, and Smith have finally found a home for their flag pole. The flag, which features an original design by Smith, will fly at Tony’s Corner Pocket bar. 

A ceremony for the memorial, featuring community leaders and a performance by America’s Got Talent semifinalist Christina Wells, is set for Sunday, April 28.

“You are cordially invited to join our LGBTQIA+ family as we raise a permanent flag and memorial to honor the victims of the tragedy that took place at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016,” the creators of the event shared on Facebook.

After repeatedly replacing a makeshift Pulse tribute on Montrose Boulevard (shown), local activists decided to erect a permanent structure.

Read the full Facebook post here.

“The current [Montrose Boulevard] memorial has been pulled out of the ground, knocked over, and stolen several times since it first went up,” Charrié said. “This is why we decided to create something that couldn’t be vandalized.”

Martinez, a bartender at Tony’s Corner Pocket, saw the Pride flag defaced for the first time in 2017. He asked his friends Charrié, a bartender, and Smith, a drag queen, to help him replace it.

Martinez, Charrié, and Smith raised a new Pride flag in the same spot each time it was stolen or destroyed. In the summer of 2018, the group decided to replace the flag one last time with a permanent structure.

A fundraiser for the project was held at JR’s Bar & Grill in September 2018. The group says that the $3,000 raised at the event was more than enough to purchase a permit and a 25-foot flagpole. All of the leftover funds will go to the survivors and families of Pulse Nightclub victims through Texas United Charities.

Martinez, Charrié, and Smith are calling their partnership the Friends of Montrose. Charrié says that the group will continue to work on initiatives in Houston that honor LGBTQ people. The Friends of Montrose’s next project, led by Smith (aka Amanda Ann Houston), will be a plaque in Bagby Park that lists the names of LGBTQ Houstonians who have died in hate crimes.

Smith designed the flag for the memorial, which features a Pulse nightclub logo and the words “With Love, Houston.” An American flag will fly above it. Both were donations from Colonel Tony Wilkerson, a military veteran and a friend of Tony’s Corner Pocket.

LGBTQ-affirming Houston police officers, both in and out of uniform, will attend the April 28 event to ensure guests’ safety.

To kick off the event at 1 p.m., Martinez, Charrié, Smith, and other community leaders will speak on behalf of the project and the lives lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting. Wells will perform the national anthem, and Sargeant Janice Gutierrez, Wilkerson, and Martinez raising the American flag. To close the event, Martinez, Charrié, and Smith will raise their Pulse tribute flag.

Following the ceremony, a reception will be held at Tony’s Corner Pocket. The Pride flag from the original Montrose Boulevard memorial will be donated to the University of Houston’s LGBTQ Alumni Association, and will be hung in UH’s Alumni Center.

“What happened in Orlando could happen anywhere, to any of us,” Charrié said. “We hope that our flag brings our community together in remembrance of Pulse, and shows that Houston stands behind its own LGBT family.”

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.

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