By Jess Winans
Pulse survivor to perform at San Diego Pride
What was supposed to be another fun Saturday night spinning records at a popular Orlando gay club turned into a nightmare for Ray Rivera. In the early hours of June 12, 2016, Rivera — whose stage name is DJ Infinite — was playing hits and preparing to wind down the large crowd on the dance floor at Pulse Nightclub’s outdoor patio. He loved watching them dance to the beats he created, beaming with pride and knowing that it was there, at that club, they could truly be themselves.
Suddenly, Rivera’s beats were interrupted by gunshots that fateful night, where 49 members of the LGBTQ community and allies were killed during one of the most horrific mass shootings in American history.
Rivera, who was one of two DJs working that night, acted quickly. According to news reports, he helped two other people survive by providing refuge behind his DJ booth.
Although he eventually made it to safety and was not injured, Rivera suffered tremendous loss as a result of the shooting. He lost friends — whose images from earlier that night remained on his cell phone — and he developed post traumatic stress disorder, causing him to seek therapy for months afterward. In addition, his DJ equipment was damaged during the aftermath and investigation, and Pulse was shut down, leaving him without his livelihood. The Orlando father wondered how he would feed his family.
“It was shocking that it happened there,” he recalled. “The next day it was a realization like, ‘Wow, this just happened here where I’m working.’”
Born in the Bronx, Rivera later lived in Staten Island but has resided in Orlando for the last 36 years. He began DJing as a hobby in 1989 after being inspired by a DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince concert.
“Watching them made me want to do more,” Rivera said. “It started off as a hobby for about eight or nine years, then I got my first break at Club Firestone [in Orlando].”
Spinning records eventually became Rivera’s full-time profession, and prior to the horrific attack, he had been DJing at Pulse Nightclub on and off for about four years, typically playing music on their popular patio. He said the nightclub had a “great atmosphere” and crowd, and he generally played them a little bit of everything.
“When I first came [to Pulse], the music that I spin was a change for that scene,” said Rivera, who is a straight ally of the LGBTQ community. “They were used to high energy music but all the feedback I got was that everyone was so happy because we switched it up.”
A few days after the tragedy, Rivera met Jody Taylor, a publicist who owns San Diego-based Sixty 5 Media — a public relations and tenant management company with a client list that includes Danielle Lo Presti, Alicia Champion and DJ Artform. After attending a vigil for the Pulse victims in Hillcrest the Monday after the shooting, Taylor was inspired to help.
After the vigil, DJ Art Form asked Taylor if she had heard anything about the DJ playing at Pulse the night of the massacre. Searching on Facebook, Taylor found Rivera, and sent him images and articles from the Hillcrest vigil honoring victims. She assured Rivera that the LGBTQ community and allies in San Diego were standing by him and said she would be willing to represent him for free.
“Here was this poor guy who was broken but trying to put up this typical [tough] guy front,” Taylor said. “He was so soft-spoken but didn’t know how he was going to move forward.”
While Rivera told her he didn’t want to profit off of tragedy, he accepted her offer to represent him free of charge. He and several other Pulse DJs were struggling and having that extra help made a difference.
“I thought this was the very least thing I could do is help this one person get through this,” Taylor said.
Taylor was also successful in getting others to help Rivera in the wake of the tragedy, by donating services like photography and equipment.
Rivera has since performed at several Pulse-anniversary events as well as a Pride event in Orlando and will perform at San Diego Pride next weekend. Taylor and Rivera are now also working on viewing future events to advocate against gun violence.
“He’s taught me a lot about humility,” Taylor said. “[Representing him] has been a really rewarding and sad and hopeful mix of emotions … if someone like Ray can continue to play music even though he almost lost his life doing it, this is the absolute least I can do. He’s a straight ally, married with kids, but he’s been so phenomenal in standing up and dealing with what he dealt with personally and being there for gay and lesbian people.”
Since the attack, Rivera said he’s made a point to spend more time with loved ones.
“The biggest thing I’ve changed about myself is I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “Before I was so swept up with work and DJing and now I make time for myself and my family. You’re not promised tomorrow.”
Rivera, known as “DJ Infinite,” will play his first San Diego Pride event on Saturday, July 15, at 7 p.m. on The Movement Hip-Hop Stage inside the San Diego Pride Music Festival, held at Marston Point in Balboa Park. Check Gay San Diego’s special Pride Guide supplement, or visit sdpride.org for more details.
“The power of music is a way for anyone who is LGBT to voice what they are going through, it’s a powerful thing,” Taylor said. “Ray wanted to honor the 49 angels killed that night by going as many places as he could for Pride celebrations specifically, to honor them and continue to get the 49 angels dancing.”
—Jess Winans is an intern at San Diego Community News Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.