The site of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history will become a memorial.

We're still with you, Orlando.

"Christopher was my only child. As I used to tell him, 'You can't do better than perfect.'"

That is how Christine Leinonen explained her relationship to her son to the teary-eyed crowd at the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2016. Her son, Christopher, and his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, were two of the 49 victims who were killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

"Christopher's paternal grandparents met and fell in love in a Japanese internment camp," Leinonen noted, comforted by two of her son's friends at the podium. "So it was in his DNA that love always trumps hate."

While nothing can truly heal the loss of a child, Leinonen — and many other parents in her shoes — can at least rest assured that their children's memories will never be forgotten in Orlando.

The Pulse nightclub is slated to construct a permanent memorial honoring the victims of the June 12, 2016, massacre.

The LGBTQ nightclub's owner, Barbara Poma, filed paperwork with the State of Florida on behalf of the OnePulse Foundation earlier this month to fund and construct a monument honoring Christopher and the other victims, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The incident marked the largest mass shooting in American history.

Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images.

The specifics of Pulse's future as a nightclub are still a bit unknown, seeing as the community is still reeling from unprecedented tragedy and loss. But Poma is set on two things: Pulse will return as a safe space for the LGBTQ community, and it will always honor those who lost their lives this June.

"Anything we would ever do would include a memorial," she told the Sentinel.

Tragically, what happened at Pulse is symbolic of a much larger systemic issue: violence against LGBTQ people — and, particularly, queer people of color.

While simply being LGBTQ means you're living more at-risk of discrimination, black and Latinx queer people — especially those who are transgender — are "massively overrepresented among victims of anti-LGBT violence," Fusion reported, pointing to data from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

The majority of people who died at Pulse were LGBTQ people of color.


Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images.

Although we've taken monumental strides forward toward equality in recent years on issues like marriage equality and same-sex adoption, that level of progress hasn't been felt on every issue across the board.

In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2011 that LGBTQ people "are far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by [a] violent hate crime."

In her heart-wrenching speech at the DNC, Leinonen encouraged us all not to feel helpless, but to fight so that no other parent needs to experience what she has.

That fight for justice, she said, certainly includes gun control.

"At the time [Christopher was born], I was a Michigan state trooper," she explained. "When I went into labor, the hospital put my off-duty gun in a safe. I didn't argue — I know common-sense gun policies save lives."

"I'm glad common-sense gun policy was in place the day Christopher was born, but where was that common sense the day he died? I never want you to ask that question about your child."

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

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Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

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Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

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Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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