Edward “Eddie” Sotomayor Jr., 34, the national brand
manager for LGBT specialist AlandChuck.travel, was one of the 49 victims killed
in the shooting at Orlando nightclub Pulse early Sunday morning.
A resident of Sarasota, Fla., Sotomayor was hailed as a
champion of travel and diversity by his friend and employer, Al Ferguson, who
called him smart, funny, well-traveled and even sarcastic — traits that led him
to success in the travel industry.
“He is probably the most recognized name and face … in
the gay travel market,” Ferguson said.
Sotomayor was involved in a large variety of events in
the gay market, ranging from Mardi Gras celebrations to the Drag Stars at Sea
cruises featuring contestants from the television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
(the cruises made headlines when Carnival Cruise Lines banned drag costumes
among non-performers, a policy that was later reversed).
Ferguson said Sotomayor organized the first gay cruise
for Americans to Cuba, a roundtrip sailing from Jamaica on Celestyal Cruises.
He became known as “Top Hat Eddie,” a nickname that
generated its own hashtag, because of the black hats he wore at events and
while traveling to stand out in a crowd, Ferguson said.
Sotomayor was at Pulse on Sunday for Latin Night with his
partner, Luis Rojas, in advance of launching another gay cruise to Cuba,
according to Ferguson. Just 23 minutes before the shooting started, Ferguson
received a Snapchat video from Sotomayor at the club with an animated top hat
dancing above his head.
What was likely one of his last acts was an act of
heroism: In all likelihood, he saved his partner’s life.
When shots were fired, Ferguson said, Rojas was outside
Pulse loading things into the trunk of their car. Sotomayor was inside.
The couple was texting and Sotomayor instructed Rojas to
leave and wait at the house they were staying at that night. Sotomayor told him
he was hiding and safe. Rojas followed his instructions.
“About 25 minutes later, there was another text exchange
between his partner and Eddie, and Eddie [again] said he was hiding and he was
safe, and that was the last communication,” Ferguson said. “Eddie for sure
saved his life because he would have come into the club and likely would have
Ferguson said Sotomayor had always been anti-violence,
making his death seem that much more cruel.
“The terrible irony of this is he was so anti guns and
violence,” he said. “He was very concerned about what he’s watched in politics
in America in the last year.”
Sotomayor leaves behind a legacy of inclusivity and
promoting the idea that travel fosters awareness.
“Eddie was so pro the idea that travel is the key that
unlocks bias and discrimination and lack of understanding,” Ferguson said.
After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris,
Sotomayor was a proponent of urging travelers to go to France, particularly
Paris, Ferguson recalled. It was the same when it came to Brussels and the
Sotomayor was also a proponent of traveling to Cuba when
the U.S. loosened its restrictions on visiting the country, even though he saw
backlash online from some saying it would be unsafe for gay people.
“He said, ‘No, that’s not what is going to happen,’”
Ferguson said, and instead said the best way for Cubans to get to know the
American gay community, and vice versa, was by Americans visiting the island
“And, of course, the Cuba trips went magnificently,”
Ferguson said. “You can read online people’s comments and articles and
editorials that were written about how almost magical the experience has been
for the American gay community to go to Cuba, and Eddie Sotomayor was
responsible for that.”
Sotomayor was a graduate of Booker High School in
Sarasota. He held a bachelor of science degree in radio and television from the
University of South Florida in Tampa.
Candlelit walks will be held in Sotomayor’s memory this
Saturday, June 18, at the pride celebration in Fort Lauderdale as well as
Saturday, June 25, at St. Petersburg pride — Sotomayor’s “home pride,” Ferguson