Poker doesn’t cross path with world news often, but 366 days ago one of the worst hate crimes occurred in Orlando when 49 people were murdered in an LGBTQ nightclub. The next day, Ryan Laplante, an openly gay man, won his first World Series of Poker bracelet – a goal he’s had since 11 years-old.

At the moment when Laplante should have been happiest – he wasn’t. “To have those occur at the exact same time, there was so much turmoil inside,” he said. “I wanted to be so happy, yet I was so upset and frustrated at the same time. I was torn in two with having won my bracelet.”

The anniversary of his win stirred emotions in Laplante. “It’s bringing me back there a little bit – but it’s just such a roller coaster day for me,” he said. “From hearing about the attack and how brutally terrible it was and yet it was an important moment for me to win a bracelet.”

Ryan overcome by emotion during his bracelet ceremony. (Photo: PokerPhotoArchive.com)
He did not let a terrible attack ruin a goal he’s had his whole life. “I daydreamed about winning a bracelet – not even winning – just playing at the World Series,” he said. “My grind leading up to 21-years-old was to build a bankroll and get good enough where I could really compete.”

“I don’t really play poker for the money, I play poker because I absolutely love doing this,” he said. “There’s nothing else I see myself doing and winning a bracelet was the epitome of success to me. As a pro, I’d like to have my peers respect my play and not results. The bracelet was more than just something I wanted – it’s something I’ve wanted for 15 years.”

The following day Laplante accepted his bracelet and decided last minute to make a public statement. “I felt as though that would be the most opportune moment for me to at least say something that could maybe have a slight positive affect on the world,” he said.

“As poker players we don’t get the opportunity to do that,” Laplante continued. “Poker is all about me, my money, my chips, my results and so forth. There really isn’t much that poker adds to the world, outside a sense of for competition.” 

From Laplante’s acceptance speech June 14, 2016:

“I wasn’t going to talk today, but June is Gay Pride month. There’s so many people I’m so deeply grateful to over the past few years, especially my fiancée Chris. Secondly, I’m so proud to call myself a WSOP champion. I’m proud to call myself an openly gay man and I encourage all of you to be proud of you are and be comfortable loving yourself, to be open with who you are with those around you if you desire to do so. Finally, please treat each other with love and respect – there’s too much hate and anger in this world.”

Laplante estimates 1,500 people personally approached him about his speech. “It’s all positive – they tell me they appreciated my speech,” said Laplante. “I deeply appreciate that such a large number of people felt positive and good things.”

Ryan’s fiancee Chris supporting him on stage. (Photo: PokerPhotoArchive.com)
“That’s all I wanted from it – people would get something good out of it and maybe change some viewpoints. It seems that I had positive impact,” he said. “A year later the message is still the same, but now it’s almost more important now than last year. With politics in the US and abroad, there’s this strong feeling of community and pride and acceptance that’s needed now more than ever. Hopefully, things can calm down and we can keep making steps forward.”