Poker pro Ryan Laplante says at least 2,000 people have approached him to say thanks for the impassioned speech he made at last year’s WSOP.
One year ago Ryan Laplante won his first World Series of Poker bracelet on the same night as the mass shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando.
The following day as he was accepting the bracelet, Laplante stood on stage with his fiancé Chris Katona and addressed the shooting.
Since then Laplante says he’s been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to him about the speech.
“I definitely think it had a positive effect and the poker community as a whole was overwhelmingly positive,” Laplante told PokerListings.com.
“I’ve had a lot of people, I’d put the line at like 2,000 people, come up and thank me for my speech and say how much they appreciated it.
“I had CNN interview me. I got in my hometown newspaper.
“I still have people come up to me to thank me. In fact I had a poker player a few days ago who was so excited to meet me and was almost in tears, a fellow openly gay poker player.
Dream Comes True Amid Real-Life Nightmare
Laplante narrowly missed winning his second bracelet this year in 2017, finishing second in a $1,500 buy-in event and earning over $165,000.
Looking back on 2016, he told PokerListings winning his first WSOP title was something he’d been working on for years, and dreaming about for far longer.
To have it happen on the same night as a shooting massacre targeting the gay community left him deeply conflicted but also gave him the chance to amplify his voice and his message.
Laplante says he wasn’t planning on giving a speech. He thought winning the bracelet was enough and there wasn’t much more to say.
But when he learned about the mass shooting he decided to use his speech to say something more important.
“June is Gay Pride Month in America and last night at a gay dance club in Orlando the largest shooting massacre in US history occurred with over 50 people losing their lives,” Laplante said during his speech.
“I’m proud to be a World Series of Poker champion and I’m proud to be an openly gay man.”
“I encourage all of you to be proud of who you are and to be comfortable to be open about who you are with those around you if you choose to do so.”
“Finally, please treat each other with love and respect because there’s too much hate and anger in this world.”
The speech was met with loud cheers and applause from the hundreds of poker players in the tournament room at the World Series of Poker.
Laplante says he was overjoyed about winning his first bracelet but devastated by the news from Orlando.
“Part of me was crying because I had just won a bracelet. I’ve been dreaming of winning a bracelet since I was 13 years old. While I was doing chores for my family I’d fantasize just about playing the World Series.
“Then actually getting to win one was something I’ve been working towards for nine years.
“The other half of me was so devastated. It’s the worst mass shooting in American history and it was an act against the GLBT community as a whole.
“To feel so happy and so sad at the same time, even now looking back on it I get emotional. It’s still hard to think about,” he said.
Laplante: “We Still Have So Far to Go”
Laplante says that even though there has been progress made in gay rights, you don’t have to look far to see there’s still a long way to go.
In addition to shocking hate crimes like the shooting in Orlando, there’s evidence everywhere that we see on a daily basis.
“Try to name an openly-gay pro football or basketball player who’s currently playing,” said Laplante.
“Sixty per cent of youth who are homeless are GLBT. You can still get fired from your job in, I want to say 34, states for being gay and you have no legal recourse.
“The Texas Supreme Court just ruled that companies don’t have to give benefits to gay spouses.”
And now with Donald Trump in the White House, Laplante sees even more reason to continue fighting for gay and trans rights.
“The poker community is really open-minded. There are a lot of alternative culture people that play poker,” said Laplante.
“When you tell poker professionals that you’re gay they really don’t care and some people tweeted me basically saying, ‘We don’t care what your sexual orientation is so why are you even telling us?’
“The reason I’m so openly gay is that we do still have so far to go.”