Edward “Eddie” Sotamayor Jr. believed love beat hate, the 34-year-old Sarasota resident’s boss and friend said Saturday.
Sotomayor was among the 49 victims killed when a gunman opened fire at the popular gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. About 500 gathered to honor Sotomayor at a public funeral and celebration of life at Robart’s Arena in Sarasota.
“There is reason there is so much love in this room and all over the world the last two weeks,” friend and boss Al Ferguson said. “It’s because whether you knew Eddie or not, you knew he was loving life and he was sharing with other people.”
On Saturday afternoon, those who loved him and knew him best gathered with many whose lives he touched in the community to say goodbye.
They cried, they laughed and they danced.
“He was beautiful,” Ferguson said. “And it didn’t matter if you were a man or woman, he would flirt with you because he was beautiful.”
To many, Sotomayor was known as “Top Hat Eddie,” but to his partner, Luis R. Rojas, he was just “Simple Eddie,” Rojas said Saturday.
Sotomayor was national brand manager for ALandCHUCK.travel, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travel agency based in Sarasota. He was known for the first LGBT cruise to Cuba in April and for organizing a LGBT cruise from Rome to Jerusalem and then Cairo.
Love is something you can’t describe but just feel, Rojas said.
“I did feel that love with Eddie from the first moment I met him. I knew that that person was going to be special in my life,” he said. “He showed me how to live, how to love and how to enjoy life.”
Rojas choked up as he said he would cherish every moment the two spent together.
Rojas quoted a Celine Dion song saying he could now relate.
“You were my strength, when I was weak. You were voice, when I couldn’t speak. You were my eyes, when I couldn’t see. You were my voice, when I couldn’t speak,” Rojas read. “You saw the best in me, lifted me up when I couldn’t reach. You gave me faith, because you believed and I am everything I am because you loved me.”
His voice trembled as he struggled to hold back sobs before concluding with his own words.
“So with these words, keep on cruising and keep on dancing for the rest of your life,” Rojas said. “I love you.”
Fittingly, there was dancing at the celebration of life.
Among the videos shown was one titled, “Keep Dancing,” featuring Whitney Houston’s, “I Want to Dance with Somebody,” and clips of people throughout Orlando dancing to the song. It concluded with the hashtag #KeepDancingOrlando and asking everyone to “add your name to the movement then donate to OneOrlando.org.”
After the video concluded, Pastor Dan Minor of Harvest Tabernacle Church in Sarasota announced they would play it again and asked everyone to get up and dance.
And dance they did. Without hesitation, hundreds rose and danced in front of their seats or in the aisles.
“Now this is officially Eddie Sotomayor’s funeral and memorial service,” Minor said joyously afterward.
For those who didn’t know why Sotomayor wore the top hats he was known for, Ferguson enlightened the crowd.
It was Sotomayor’s desire to be seen in a beautiful way as if he wasn’t beautiful already, Ferguson said, which made him want to add a little more. During a company presentation one day, he put on a top hat.
“And people loved it,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson motioned to Sotomayor’s hat placed on the coffin, and told them it was the original but Sotomayor’s top hats had improved over time.
“It grew and grew and more people started to embrace the top hat to the point that we had tens of thousands of people change their profile picture to top hats,” Ferguson said.
Alexander Lucas Rodriguez of Asbury Park, N.J., was among those who poked fun about their friend, Sotomayor.
“There is a saying that you don’t get to choose how you die, but you get to choose how you live,” Rodriguez said. “There is no one who encountered Eddie who didn’t encounter his positivity.’
To conclude the service, Minor addressed the tragedy at Pulse.
“Where do we go from here?” Minor asked. “At the end of the day, hate pulled the triggers.”
He spoke of how people are often prone to hate those who are different from them because they do not understand.
“We need a solution to end the hatred in our nation,” Minor said.
He choked up in tears when he addressed the LGBT community.
“I am sorry for the ways you have been treated at times, especially by the church, religious leaders and at times those you looked up to,” Minor said sobbing softly. “We are sorry.”
He later added: “I believe that love never fails.”
After Sotomayor’s coffin was carried out and the crowd stood solemnly to allow the family to exit, all attendees were invited to a final celebration of his life at St. Pete Pride to be followed by a candlelight procession.