Dru & Andrea

Drew and Andrea at Steak n' Shake in 2004

Drew and Andrea at Steak n' Shake in 2004

Andrea Bernardo was one of Drew's best friends. The two met in undergrad at UCF. Below is her story.

A month ago yesterday I attended the funeral of one of my closest friends, Drew Leinonen. A decade ago, I buried my father, a man I spent hours discussing and analyzing (and even comparing) with Dru. They were both psychologists, and Daddy Issues are always titillating conversation. When I saw The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on Dru’s bookshelf years ago, and broke down in tears because my father had known the author, Dru let me borrow the book and never asked for it back.

It’s surreal to look at an embalmed corpse and every bit as painful as you think it is if you’ve never had the opportunity. Maybe if I squinted, and stood just close enough to see the spikes of his hair poking above the casket sides, it could pass for my friend. All you want to do is apologize, feeling guilty for still living while someone you loved died and you did nothing to intervene, your friend murdered while you were asleep. The people I love always seem to leave me when I’m sleeping.

Dru literally brought music into my life. Before my month long trip to Europe, he helped me buy my first iPod and we scrolled through his music library together, letting me select what would become the sound track of my life for the better part of a decade. He called my music “Dru’s iPodlite.” He introduced me to The Last Five Years, and Brown’s lyrics now are reverberating in my head, with new meaning attached.

One month to the day after the shooting, I woke up at 4am to the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline pumping, I confirmed with Phil it was a dream. After an hour, my pulse slowed and I fell back asleep, dreaming I was in Winter Park, meeting up with Dru and Juan. In my dream, I thought I must’ve time-traveled, and here was my chance to save them! I began sobbing, begging Dru not to go to Pulse the next day, pleading with him please, please don’t go. He smiled at me, wrapped me in one of his notorious too-tight, pinching hugs, and promised me he wouldn’t go to the club. When I woke up in the morning, I was annoyed at myself for believing time travel might happen outside of the movies. Coincidentally, Dru’s Marty impression, complete with red cap, was my favorite.

We met in college. Technically, a few days before. The first night of moving into the dorms at UCF, I saw Dru on a picnic table, already surrounded by friends. It unfolded like a movie scene: our eyes locked, picking up each other’s’ scent –Faghag meets Boi. Fruit Fly meets Twink. We would laugh at these pejorative labels (and how much I hate labels) for the rest of his life. It was instantaneous, and like everyone else I met my freshman year, we were obnoxious and curious and passionate, feeding on drama and Steak N’ Shake.

After the first year of college, I’d put on the Freshmen 500 and clocked in at 300lbs on my 5’6 frame. I was large, boisterous and all around insufferable at times; shock value was my costume, and I stitched and displayed it large enough to cloak my hulking frame. I was determined for people to comment on what came out of my mouth, for my words and actions to define me, not my body (besides, it was easier to talk about eating a human fetus than actually eating a salad). Dru loved me anyway. He loved me in part BECAUSE of this. Sometimes, we would have sleepovers at his dorm or apartment. We would strip down to our underwear and watch Y Tu Mama Tambien and eat baked brie and homemade chocolate truffles. Dru would invite me into his bed to sleep and we would cuddle. Me, a giant, wildebeest of a girl cuddling with a boy a third her size, not because there was underlying sexual attraction, but because Dru truly loved and accepted me exactly as I was. For the depth that I was disgusted with myself, he wanted to be physically and emotionally close to me. That is a spiritual love that few people are capable of feeling or brave enough to express; Dru danced in it.

Brittany Ann's eulogy spoke of losing hours at Dru’s apartment. A glow emanated from everywhere he lived; every dorm or apartment was indeed a safe haven, a sanctuary. I told him his place always reminded me of Nate Fisher’s father’s secret apartment from Six Feet Under. How poignant to think of that comparison now. Warmly lit, snug, and filled in every corner and wall space with art, movies, and collectibles of everything that brought him joy. I’ve realized that similar to the indie DVDs, action figures, Star Wars memorabilia, and animal skulls, Dru collected and cherished his friends the same way: we all inhabited Dru’s Land of Misfit Toys. We were each a unique curio in his treasured collection of friends.

On the last day I saw Dru, he and Juan toured me around The Center, surprised I’d never been. Two weeks later, The Center would be on international news, staff weeping for its lost community members. My last words to Dru were over text, Saturday, June 11th. He wouldn’t read the next text I sent to him Sunday morning.

I’m still grieving the loss of my friend. I’m not ready to “focus on the good times” or accept that “he is in a better place.” Dru “living on in my heart” doesn’t hold me while we watch movies, or sassily call me out on my bullshit, or provide a unique stance that never occurred to me. I wanted to write about Dru to honor him, but all I’ve managed to do is talk about how I was able to feel when we were together. I miss my friend, and selfishly, I miss how I felt in Dru’s light. 
“Jaime is over and Jaime is gone…and I’m still hurting.”


Hate Crimes?

My name is Sara Grossman and I am the Communications Manager for The Dru Project. I also work as the Communications Manager for The Matthew Shepard Foundation in Denver, CO.


Today, another board member sent me a photo of Drew from 2008. 

In the photo, he was laying in front of a car and the caption said something about it being a "hate crime in progress." I immediately felt the blood start to drain from my face. 

She said, "Do you think he always knew he would die because of a hate crime?"

By that point, I knew my face was completely white.

No, I do not think that Drew always felt like he would die from a hate crime. In fact, he was one of the few people who would openly make fun of himself and our community about it. That was one of our things. We somehow felt like we were above hate. Above hate crimes. We wanted to believe that we were in this post-hate crime world. It wasn't the 90s. We lived in a post-Ellen generation.

We were wrong, though.

The truth of the matter is that since 1998 when Matthew Shepard was tortured and beaten for being gay, all of us were probably on high alert about the fact that yes -- any of us could have been Matt. Maybe we used humor to shirk the thought. Maybe we got involved in our GSAs to feel like we had a community. Maybe we started the GSAs to create the community.

There were a litany of reasons. Any or all of them valid.

And as time progressed, we had progress. DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell were overturned. State groups were formed to help schools. But as time progressed, violence also progressed. Instead of being worried about being dragged from a bar and killed, we now have to worry about people entering our bars and killing us. En masse. 

What can we do about it? How can we continue the work that The Matthew Shepard Foundation and countless other LGBT advocacy organizations have worked tirelessly to accomplish? How is it that in 2016, we have neither jet packs nor peace of mind?

I don't have the answers. Drew didn't either. But we did what we were always taught to do: love. And that is something all of us need a bit more of in a landscape that is so entrenched in hatred.

If you can, volunteer your time to your local LGBT organization. If you can, make a donation. Anything helps. 


Save the Date: Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards

We are so proud of Christine! She will be in Iowa in October, speaking at the Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards--about Drew's life, Pulse, and what The Dru Project is doing to keep Drew's legacy alive.

Via Iowa Safe Schools:

Joining us as a special keynote speaker for the 2016 Spirit Awards on October 20th is Christine Leinonen. Christine is Christopher's mom. Christopher was murdered along with his boyfriend Juan at Pulse in Orlando. Christine recently spoke at the Democratic National Convention about Christopher and the day he was born. We honor the victims of this massacre, we say their names, and we must work to live in a society where violence against the LGBTQ community is a distant past. Please join us at the 2016 Spirit Awards and RSVP today: http://iowasafeschools.org/index.php/buy-tickets

Save the Date: One Beat for Pulse

Join The Dru Project on September 10th in Pinellas Park, FL for an event benefitting the organization: details here.


Local LGBTQ+ authors, poets, musicians and artists will share their work at this fundraiser event. Proceeds will benefit The Dru Project and Seminole High School, which is raising money for a memorial for one of the victims of the Pulse shooting, Drew Leinonen, who attended the school and founded its GSA.


Everyone who knew Drew

knew that he was a major movie and media buff. From the Criterion collection to indie films at the Enzian to Star Wars and everything in between, he knew his stuff. This is why, as part of his legacy, we want to touch as many people globally as he did in his own community.

We want Star Wars to create its first LGBT movie character. This isn't just for Drew, although nothing could immortalize him more than a character in honor of him in his favorite film series. This is also for the LGBT kids who don't have very many characters that are representative of them in the media or film industry. We urge you to sign the petition to help make this happen.

Star Wars has never had a gay character appear on screen before, but as The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams recently said on the topic, “The fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”


Christine's DNC Speech

On July 27, Drew's mother, Christine,


It takes about 5 minutes for a church bell to ring 49 times.

I know this because last month my son Christopher, his boyfriend Juan, and 47 others were murdered at a club in Orlando. Christopher was my only child, and as I used to tell him, you can’t do better than perfect.

He had so many friends, two of whom are here tonight representing hundreds and hundreds more. All his life he brought people together. In high school, he won the Ann Frank Humanitarian Award for starting the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Christopher’s paternal grandparents met and fell in love in a Japanese internment camp, so it was in his DNA that love always trumps hate.

Christopher was a big Hillary supporter. That’s why I’m here. So that I can tell you about the day he was born. At the time I was a Michigan state trooper. When I went into labor the hospital put my off-duty gun in a safe. I didn’t argue. I know common sense gun policies save lives. The weapon that murdered my son fires 30 rounds in one minute. An Orlando city commissioner pointed out the terrible math. One minute for a gun to fire so many shots. Five minutes for a bell to honor so many lives. I’m glad common sense gun policy was in place the day Christopher was born, but where was that common sense the day he died?

I never want you to ask that question about your child. That’s why I support Hillary Clinton.