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Remembering Terry DeCarlo, LGBT Leader In Orlando

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to take a moment to remember the life of someone I met after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. Terry DeCarlo ran Orlando's LGBT Center. And after the mass shooting at a gay club in 2016, he helped parents and families of the victims. Some rushed to Orlando in such a hurry, they didn't even bring a change of clothes.

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TERRY DECARLO: You know, one mom I took shopping at Macy's personally.

SHAPIRO: The department store had given the LGBT Center gift cards to help.

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DECARLO: And the next week, I went back to Macy's with her because I actually had to buy a suit for her son to be buried in.

SHAPIRO: We're joined now by Carlos Guillermo Smith, a state representative from Orlando who fought for LGBT rights alongside DeCarlo.

Thanks for joining us, and I'm sorry for your loss.

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: Thank you for having me, Ari. My condolences to Terry's husband, Bill. So many of us knew and loved Terry like a member of our own family.

SHAPIRO: Tell me one of the memories of Terry that you'll cherish.

SMITH: Well, I remember waking up on June 12, 2016, and Terry was one of the first faces I saw on TV. It was 7 a.m., and he was already on the ground providing support and comfort to those seeking information, many who would later discover that their loved one was killed in the attack.

SHAPIRO: In the days after the Pulse shooting, there was a national and, really, global outpouring of support. But as the months and then years went by, Terry didn't leave that behind.

SMITH: No, he didn't. He was always there for the Pulse families, for the survivors and for the community overall. He saw that as his mission, not only as the executive director of the LGBTQ Center but, really, as a human being.

SHAPIRO: How is the Orlando LGBT community responding today now that the city has lost this leader?

SMITH: Well, Terry's impact on the lives of so many people in Orlando is hard to overstate. I didn't just see sadness. I saw genuine pain. They saw Terry DeCarlo as someone who helped get them through the most difficult time in their lives. And they're forever grateful, as I am.

SHAPIRO: When I spoke with Terry DeCarlo on the first anniversary of the Pulse massacre in 2017, he showed me a tattoo he'd gotten - a heartbeat pulse line in rainbow colors with the date of the attack and the words, never forget our 49. He had a message for other LGBT centers around the country.

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DECARLO: If you do a vigil, if you do a candlelight, if you do something, take pictures and send them to us so that we can show the families that you're not forgotten about.

SHAPIRO: This week, people are lighting candles for Terry DeCarlo, who died of cancer at age 57. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.