On June 12, Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen and his partner Juan Ramon Guerrero were two of 49 people murdered by a man with an assault rifle in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. In the months since that act of unconscionable hate, the couple’s family and friends say that love has given them the purpose, comfort and hope to move forward.

Finding strength

Christine Leinonen says she sometimes struggles to find strength since losing her son, so she calls on the love and devotion she still feels for him. “I used to be in the background helping him shine in life,” she says. “Now, I have to be the voice he had stolen from him.”

Part of being that voice has been supporting The Dru Project, an organization formed to facilitate gay-straight alliances for LGBTQ youth in schools. Drew knew how meaningful those connections could be, and was recognized for forming a gay-straight alliance in his own high school.

'“Experiences like this remind us just how much we truly rely on each other.”'

The Dru Project is an initiative that contributes to a general feeling of hope Christine has for the future of the LGBTQ community. Because when gays are open and out, she says, “More and more people love someone who is gay, whether it is a teacher, co-worker, doctor, child or neighbor. With that love comes more and more acceptance.”

Comfort in a community

Brandon Wolf was at Pulse with Drew and Juan on that terrible night. While he is still overwhelmed by grief on some days, other times he is overwhelmed by love and compassion. “Identifying as LGBTQ is hard,” Wolf says. “Some fear you. Some mock you. Plenty misunderstand you. It would have been easy to crawl under my blanket on June 13. Instead, I was empowered by a flood of love from others.” 

STRONGER TOGETHER: The Dru Project works to strengthen the bonds between LGBTQ students and their straight classmates, something Drew valued and placed importance on in his own life.

Brandon also takes comfort in giving back, continuing Drew’s legacy of compassion and fighting to make the world a better place. The message, he says, is simple: love. “So often, hatred is the easy way out. We are quick to throw up a wall and assume it's us against the world. But facing fear and anger with more of the same only leads to violence. The challenge for us now is to live the compassion we want from others.”

Drew’s close friend, Jose Arriagada, says he is reminded of the pain and tragedy every day. But he intends to turn the horror into something that impacts the world.

He has pushed through by involving himself in the Dru Project, and taken comfort in how the country and Orlando came together with the LGBTQ community. “Experiences like this remind us just how much we truly rely on each other,” says Arriagada. “We must get past a person's color, race, religion and see each other for what we really are: human.”