Agent killed in Pulse nightclub was renowned figure in LGBT travel

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Eddie Sotomayor (left) and Al Ferguson in Cuba in April, during an excursion on a gay cruise.
Eddie Sotomayor (left) and Al Ferguson in Cuba in April, during an excursion on a gay cruise.

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 been killed.”

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 attacks there.

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 country.

“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 said.

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