Editor’s note: Just after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016, a gunman opened fire on the patrons of Pulse, a popular LGBTQX nightclub in downtown Orlando, Florida, during the venue’s Latin Night. Six members of the Comcast NBCUniversal family were among the 49 people killed, and two other employees were among those injured.
None of us could have prepared for the pain and horror of what happened at Pulse nightclub. For more than 20,000 Comcast NBCUniversal team members at our theme parks in the greater Orlando area — and tens of thousands more of our employees around the world — this national tragedy hit terribly close to home.
Companies often talk about what it means to celebrate diversity and inclusion, to build a corporate culture that supports all employees. For Comcast NBCUniversal, our shock at the Pulse tragedy held those values up to the light.
As word of the shootings began to spread among our Orlando employees, there was no question of where we had to turn next.
“The guiding thought we all shared was, ‘What do our people need right now? What can we do for our community?’” says John Sprouls, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Universal Parks & Resorts. “Nothing else mattered.”
The company’s response — from candlelit gatherings at our theme parks to countless gestures of compassion exchanged by co-workers and community members — grew to be as diverse as our employee family itself. We leaned on the unity of Comcast NBCUniversal’s culture and the reach of our platforms to connect with each other as a family, united in sorrow, support, and healing.
REELING FROM A SENSELESS ACT
Calls and messages about the Pulse tragedy began circulating between employees almost immediately. Many of our employees returned to work still in disbelief, shock, anger, and fear. We were trying to learn whether our teammates were safe, and stopping each other in the hallways to hug and cry together.
Shawn Leavitt, Senior Vice President of Global Benefits and an executive champion of Comcast’s LGBTQ Employee Resource Group, wrote an email to the group’s members in which he emphasized the significance of the shooting taking place at what was, for many, a refuge and a safe space.
“While this act targeted the LGBT and Latino communities — fueled by hatred for who we are and who we love — it affects all of us,” Shawn wrote.
STRUGGLING PAST GRIEF TO EXTEND SUPPORT
At 8 a.m. Sunday, less than six hours after the shooting, Universal Orlando Human Resources Vice President Rhonda Rhodes and others were already on the phone coordinating support for employees.
“We were all just shaken to the core in trying to understand something so horrific happening in our city, to our people,” Rhonda says. “It’s times like these when pure emotional strength and a commitment to others is all that can carry you through the fire.”
On Monday morning, our local human resources and diversity and inclusion teams had grief counselors on-site. In addition, the teams left food and notes of encouragement in break rooms and centered all communications around a newly created Love Is Universal logo.
By the end of that day, a rainbow flag of solidarity was flying outside the Universal Orlando employee entrance.
“I’ve never been so proud of my company or the city of Orlando for how we supported each other after this tragedy,” says Sandra Bersani, Licensed Partners Manager at the resort and Executive Co-Chair of Unidos, our Hispanic Employee Resource Group. “Beyond just offering people time off or counseling, leaders across the organization reached out in such a heartfelt way. That was extraordinary to me.”
Our donation to the OneOrlando Fund to assist the Pulse tragedy victims and family members
HEALING THROUGH SMALL ACTS AND WORLDWIDE UNITY
Our community relations and diversity teams also coordinated with Lisa Culham, executive champion of the Orlando LGBTQ Employee Resource Group, and Sandra in reaching out to their members as well as other Orlando organizations.
At a time when many employees were feeling stunned and helpless, Lisa says, performing even small acts of kindness brought tremendous healing power.
“We brought meals to the Zebra Coalition, which works with homeless LGBTQ youth, and the GLBT Center of Central Florida for almost two weeks,” she says. “Our members also supported the other local businesses around Pulse by leaving them ‘baskets of love’ with snacks, cards, and different little items.”
Just as strongly, our people felt drawn to make a companywide statement that we will not let this act of violence overshadow our compassion and unity.
On June 16, thousands of Comcast NBCUniversal employees gathered with the company’s senior leaders at two candlelight remembrance ceremonies at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood. Recognizing how this tragedy touched our entire employee family, we also simulcast the Orlando ceremony live in what became an international internal broadcast so that our more than 159,000 worldwide employees could participate.
“It affirmed for everyone that as a family, we are going to hurt together, grieve together, and heal together,” says John Sprouls.
Attendees lifted candles in remembrance of our six colleagues killed at Pulse. And we watched, via video montage, as employees from across the United States and our parks in other countries shaped their hands into hearts to signify unity with those in Orlando.
“Seeing that support was like having the rest of the company wrap its arms around us,” says Scot LaFerte, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Universal Orlando Resort. “People talked about this event as their first step in trying to heal.”
Other steps followed: #loveisuniversal began trending on Twitter, and employees carried banners commemorating the victims of Pulse in pride marches from coast to coast. Comcast NBCUniversal also donated $1 million to the OneOrlando Fund, established by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to assist the Pulse tragedy victims and family members. “Residents, nonprofits, and businesses came together to provide support to the survivors and the families of the 49 victims,” the mayor said. “We are grateful Universal Orlando was one of the first to step up and help those in need.”
REMEMBERING THOSE WE LOST
Luis Vielma, 22, staffed our Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Orlando.
Jerald Wright, 31, was a seasonal employee at Universal Studios Florida.
Xavier E. Serrano Rosado, 35, was an entertainer who performed in Universal Studios’ Superstar Parade.
Shane Tomlinson, 33, sang in a band that often played at Universal Orlando venues.
Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25, had been hired to assist with the production of the Telemundo children’s program La Voz Kids.
Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24, was a production assistant on La Voz Kids.
OUT OF TRAGEDY, A STRONGER BOND
Almost a year later, the impact of this tragedy still resonates at Universal. There are tangible signs, such as the tribute window at Universal Studios Florida with a winged heart encircling the names of our six team members.
Then there are the subtler, yet still powerful, reminders that the connections we formed in grief have endured to bring us deeper strength.
“Our response to this tragedy reminded us that we’re a community, we’re family, and we are one,” says Tom Schroder, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Universal Parks & Resorts. “It was there before, but I’m even more aware of it now.”
Klay Fennell, Comcast Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and a manager of Comcast’s external relations with national LGBTQX organizations, agrees.
“As a member of this community, we had an obligation to be fully present, visible, and supportive,” Klay says. “This showed our employees that we don’t just have inclusive policies or processes. We truly believe in creating a culture where every person feels valued and supported.”
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