It was in late June that Brandon Wolf saw a photo that left him breathless — a photo of a massive billboard next to Penn Station in New York City, neon yellow with the words “Read with Pride.” Above it, the cover of his book, “A Place For Us,” just days away from release, and in the background, the Empire State Building soaring into the clouds.
“I’m sitting at home working and then I get an email from the publisher of my first work outside of Penn Station,” he told OutSFL. “I did not know that was going to be part of our marketing plan.
Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and an advocate for LGBTQ rights and gun safety, can now add author to his list of accolades. On July 1, his memoir hit bookshelves after being on limited release to Amazon Prime members during Pride Month.
“Being a queer person of color in this country, and certainly in both the time I was young and now, can feel like no one would ever read your story. It can feel like no one may ever be able to relate to you,” he said.
In the first week, the book was an Amazon bestseller and today has more than 650 reviews. He’s had book signings in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, appeared on The ReidOut with Joy Reid on MSNBC, and is finalizing details on his Orlando book launch party. He also successfully auditioned to be the narrator for the audio book. But the story behind the story begins three years ago, when he moved to finally put pen to paper.
Brandon Wolf signs copies of his new memoir, "A Place For Us." Photo by Chris Wallace.
“There were so many points over the last seven years where I thought about what it might look like to write a book, and it never quite felt like the right time,” Wolf explains. “But in the summer of 2020, obviously we were in the middle of a deadly pandemic, there was a lot of unrest across the country, people were scared, and then of course the murder of George Floyd, really brought a lot of things that we had been grappling with as a country to the surface.”
It was then that Wolf knew he had a story to tell — not just about surviving the shooting at Pulse nightclub that took the lives of 49 people, but also growing up as a queer Black man and his work on the frontlines of advocating for LGBTQ people in Florida. He spent the summer of 2020 working on his proposal and agreed to a contract with Amazon that winter. Next, he had 12 months to put together his story, tackling themes such as racism, homophobia, forgiveness, and community. He turned in his manuscript in January 2022, right when Don’t Say Gay was ramping up.
However, he decided he didn’t want to devote too much of the book to policy, but instead to “community, relationships and chosen family.” In December 2022 he had the first copy of the book in his hands, his “love note to other queer Black people in the country.”
“It was the cover looking back at me, and it was a really emotional moment to see all of that work in physical form,” he remembers. “The cover is real, it has texture to it. I took a bunch of pictures of it and I sent pictures to my family.”
His family is the focus of his favorite chapter, “Forgiveness.” Here, Wolf writes about his relationship with his father, a rocky one that many LGBTQ people can relate to.
“Forgiveness is not absolving them of the harm they’ve done; it’s an olive branch, it’s an act of unconditional love,” he explains. “I hope that people are resonating with my dad’s journey, which kind of runs parallel to mine.”
Then there’s his chosen family, namely two friends turned brothers who were shot and killed at Pulse nightclub, Drew Leinonen and Juan Guerrero. Wolf feared that as time passed, their names would be relegated to forgotten words on a wall. He dedicates a whole chapter to their friendship, titled “Drew.”
Throughout all the themes, Wolf hopes the main takeaway with readers is that they belong and there is a place for them to thrive.
“There were moments where as a kid I felt like I might be the only person like me on the earth,” he said. “I hope it is a message to other young people that there really is space for them in the world.”
You can purchase “A Place For Us” at brandonwolf.us/a-place-for-us