1. News

Dunedin drag queen remembers years of working at Pulse

Natasha Richards performed weekly for a decade at Pulse, the gay nightclub where 49 people were shot and killed last weekend.
Published Jun. 18, 2016

DUNEDIN — One night a week for 10 years, Natasha Richards made a 100-mile drive to Orlando, only to drive another 100 back the next day, so she could work a shift at Pulse. It wasn't just a bar, she says. "It was a home."

She made the trip to put on Latin Night, a drag show event she and her friends originally brought to the nightclub from another Orlando gay bar that turned straight in the late 1990s. They wanted somewhere to feel free again, so they turned to Pulse. And it turned out to be just the place.

"They welcomed all of us — bartenders, drag queens — with open arms," she said. "They allowed us to come in and put on a night that we loved."

Richards, now 43, was born as a man and began to transition into a woman as a young adult living in New Port Richey. Everything was changing, so she moved to Dunedin in search of a more welcoming and tolerant community.

She eventually started doing drag shows at Blur, a popular local bar, and went on to win a string of more than 30 transgender beauty pageants. As her fame grew, she started performing throughout the state. But Pulse, although nearly two hours away, always drew her back.

"It was never just a building to me, because the people inside made it something more," Richards said. "They appreciated my work, my talent, my beauty. They valued me."

And that's how it was for every person — gay, lesbian, transgender or straight — that walked through Pulse's doors, she said.

"There were never any labels or limits or questions or hatred — only acceptance," Richards said. "People went there to be themselves. That was the heart of Pulse."

That always meant music and dancing, hugs, kisses — "lots of kisses" — and love, she said. It was a place for people to discard their troubles. A haven for harmony. A place to fully live.

"I am proud and honored to have been there and to have been a part of it all," Richards said.

Even though it has been years since she last performed at the nightclub, Richards says she made lasting friendships there. When she got news about the shooting, the first thing she thought to do was check on friends who may have been working.

"I knew the first thing I had to do was make sure my girls were okay," she said. "I found out two of them went out of an air duct system."

Richards said she never thought something like this could happen at a place that emitted so much light and positivity.

"This bar was nothing but joy and happiness and love, things (the shooter's) heart, like many other hearts, obviously couldn't understand," she said. "That's what is so shocking about this ... It was just a happy place to go, there was no negativity, but he demanded hate and evil."

Regardless of the taint the shooting has left on Pulse, Richards says she hopes to see it reopen. Seeing it torn down or closed would bring her to tears, break her spirit, she said.

"It shouldn't happen. We must stand strong, stand by our beliefs and show everyone we are here to stay," she said. "If that building comes down, (the shooter) wins, and how dare he? We are the winners, always. Always. Nobody is taking us down."

Contact Megan Reeves at or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.


  1. The Jackson house in downtown Tampa in February. The historic building was a rooming home for African Americans including celebrities during the segregation era. On Monday, Tampa Bay LIghtning owner Jeff Vinik announced a $1 million gift towards its preservation. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The gift from the Tampa Bay Lightning owner and his wife will help preserve the African American landmark in Tampa.
  2. Trump supporters yell and show the middle finger at hecklers during Kimberly Guilfoyle's speech in the University Auditorium at the University of Florida on October 10, 2019. Guilfoyle spoke about her childhood as a first-generation American, her experiences as a lawyer and her support for the Trump family.  CHRIS DAY  |  Chris Day
    Student senator Ben Lima explains why he’s pursuing the charges against Michael Murphy.
  3. George Dwyer stars as Jarvis Standish (left) and Scott Tilson as Marco Santiago (right) in 'American Heartbeat,' an original musical about a Marine Vietnam veteran and an undocumented immigrant who meet while vying for the same job. The show will be presented Nov. 22-24 at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill. Martha Velez
    ProComm Theatre Troupe presents ‘American Heartbeat.’
  4. [Getty Images] FLUXFACTORY  |  Getty Images
    Under the circumstances spelled out here, the advice columnist says Mom has few desirable options.
  5. More than 800 rear-seat passengers who weren’t wearing seat belts were killed last year in U.S. traffic crashes.
  6. File photo of cocaine.  [Times files]
    The bag contained 15 kilos of drenched cocaine bundles.
  7. The Democratic House Speaker said the President is welcome to appear or answer questions in writing, if he chooses.
  8. 4 hours ago• Associated Press
    Police and emergency vehicles work at the scene of a shooting at a backyard party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in southeast Fresno, Calif. Multiple people were shot and at least four of them were killed Sunday at a party in Fresno when suspects sneaked into the backyard and fired into the crowd, police said. (Larry Valenzuela/The Fresno Bee via AP) LARRY VALENZUELA  |  AP
    Fresno police say the shooting took place about 6 p.m. Sunday on the city’s southeast side.
  9. Forecasters with the National Weather Service estimate that the system has a 50-percent chance of developing into a tropical or sub-tropical depression during the next 48 hours. National Weather Service
    Forecasters with the National Weather Service expect the system to develop into a depression by mid-week.
  10. MSC Cruises brought the MSC Meraviglia to Port Miami to begin its first-ever season of sailing from Florida. The 171,598-gross-ton, 4,500-passenger vessel is tied with a sister ship as the 7th largest ship in the world. MSC CRUISES
    Meraviglia, which means “wonder” in Italian, debuted in 2017, and has among unique offerings a 450-person venue for original Cirque du Soleil shows.