Christopher Hansen’s quest to heal himself, others
By: Mike Givens/TRT Assistant Editor—
The Rainbow Times recently interviewed Christopher Hansen, a survivor of the June 12, 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, to discuss his heroic efforts to help other survivors and how the tragedy has shaped his life.
Hansen will be the grand marshal of the North Shore Pride Parade on Saturday, June 24, to be held in Salem Massachusetts.
Q: Take us back to that night. What was it like when the shots first rang out?
A: I leaned up against the wall right next to the VIP [section]. Before I could even take a sip of my beverage, the first three shots were fired. Pow-Pow-Pow. I could feel the vibrations in my feet and my back and I thought it was the music. I felt that the DJ had maybe amped up the bass a little bit and I thought, “Wow, this is really crazy.” I felt guilty for a while dancing to the first three bullets that possibly took the first three angels … Dreams and hopes and lives that would be changed forever in a pool of uncertainty …
Q: What was it like that night throughout the chaos of escaping helping other survivors?
A: I felt like I was in a movie with surround sound … but it was actually my life … It seemed like the shooting went on for a whole song, maybe 4-5 minutes … People started dropping … Bottles behind the bar started shattering … I feel like it may have been the energy that pulled me instinctively [to stay and help others]. Every time I go with my own instinct it seems to be the right one.
Q: You saved the lives of at least two people on that night. What made you stay?
A: [At the time, I felt like] if had a hand in saving someone, then I did something right; my parents raised somebody who was proper, and I could make them proud.
There was a girl in the grass and she was begging to be taken out of the grass. We put her in my lap. I was trying to keep her awake and alert. She [Kalisha] was shot in the back … When we put her in my lap, her bullet wound was up against my thigh. The pressure allowed her to not bleed out. When I was little, my father had a joke. He would grab my hand, squeeze it, like a heartbeat and say, “Hi, I’m a surgeon and I fix hearts all day,” and he would pulsate my hand like a slow heartbeat. [That ‘joke’] helped me in one of my worst moments.
Q: How do you feel the LGBTQ community responded to the shooting in the days and weeks following the shooting?
A: It’s not just the LGBTQ community, it’s the whole world and Orlando and Florida within itself. Everybody came together when it happened … Everybody has come together as best as they can and they’re still working hard … The Orlando United Assistance Center helps the victims of crime. It’s where we go for counseling, financial assistance. If we need any kind of help, that’s where we go to get our resources … The Center has gotten stronger … “Somos Orlando” was founded by Nancy Rosado. She’s a 9/11 survivor and she was a police officer for 25 years; she retired and moved down here to get away from everything. When Pulse happened, she united; she helped unite the Latinx community … Somos Orlando has Latinx meetings on Thursdays where you can go and people of color and really anyone in the community can go … male, female, transgender, bisexual, straight, curious, everybody is welcome. We talk about everyday needs and we do scenarios and practices and we communicate with each other and every week you get to know someone different. It’s a pretty cool place to get to know people …
Q: Have you encountered other forms of hatred before Pulse Orlando?
A: I felt the weight of what shaped my parents biggest fear, and learned the first act of hate that anchored deep into my subconscious, the murder of Matthew Shepard. I became a scared and a broken young man at the age of 14 in the eighth grade, because I was just like him, gay. I didn’t know what gay was until Matthew Shepard … How could I become the man I expected to be if I was hated for who I was and how I acted?
Q: Could you tell our readers a bit about the 3D mural project you’re working on with artist Michael Pilato (Note: To learn more about the project read The Rainbow Times’ reflection piece in the June issue or visit www.inspirationorlando.com)?
A: Michael Pilato is an artist, a musician, a poet, a writer, an illustrator, he is just life. I carry around with me a wooden heart that he carved … When I met him, he was doing a 49-hour stand-in vigil. He stayed up for 49 hours, one for each angel, to paint this mural. When the mural is finished, I will be traveling with it around the world. I’ve had the honor of personally getting to know the artists as people … to be working with a team of illustrators who are going to reshape, reform, and revamp the art industry. It’s’ amazing. This is a whole new genre.
This is an augmented virtual reality mural. There’s an app, there will be messages uploaded to it. The 49 angels are going to have [family members] tell their stories. There’s going to be a painting, and when it’s done, people will be able to walk up to it and tape messages and video messages and upload it to the mural. They’ll be able to take messages and poems or whatever they want, and when the mural leaves [its location] those messages will be forever stamped on it. There will be 49 murals between Orlando, Kissimmee, Fla., and Puerto Rico. It’s amazing how Michael is bringing the art community together, the families of the victims, the survivors, the community, and the world.
Q: You got a tattoo after the Pulse massacre on your right arm. On the left side, a dandelion grows out of a rainbow-colored Pulse sign. At the other end of the pulse sign are colorful arrows shooting into the air into the head of the dandelion. Could you tell us what the tattoo symbolizes?
A: [What the tattoo means is] through every storm the wind will come and the seeds of love will be planted into our pulse and feed life. It’s the never-ending cycle knowing that even though there are dark times, there are light times ahead also because the seeds of love will be grown.
Q: Has Pulse stayed with you?
A: I feel light and whimsical and I feel like I can go anywhere. Other times, I feel like a big boulder at the bottom of the ocean where I’m just stuck and I’m drowning. It’s really, really challenging for me too to look over the hump. Then, I found “church.” I didn’t have much faith because being part of the LGBT community I was shut out feeling unable to love God because I’m sure you couldn’t be gay [and do so too].
Q: How has this experience changed you?
A: I have a bracelet that says “Chance.” My roommate in Ohio got it for me … the next day my parents’ house burned down … It was like chance was brought there and I felt like it gave my family a second chance at life because they were all sleeping at 4 o’clock in the morning … I kept this bracelet even [after] a wreck I was in when I moved from Ohio … I totaled my car in the mountains of Virginia and when you looked over the edge of the road where I was, all you could see were trees and mountains and if I would have gone off that edge, I would have died … by chance, I made it through that wreck … I came to Florida, went to Pulse, I was wearing that same bracelet, hadn’t taken it off and I wore it that night, by chance. It still has the blood stains from that night on the bottom of the wristband … I consider it as a reminder that you should always take a chance in life and even when you’re facing danger, on the other side, it’s okay. Through all the bad, there’s good. Through chance there’s luck and you just have to keep moving forward. So I’m going to continue wearing this bracelet to remind myself to take a chance on life. I’m Chancen Romancin’ Hansen.
To learn more about Chris’ experience during the shooting, checkout the Pulse Orlando exclusive, in-depth story in this issue of The Rainbow Times.