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One of Poker’s Proudest Moments

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Ryan La Plante receiving his 2016 PLO bracelet

I have never been prouder of the poker world than I was on June 12, 2016. The day started with a phone call from WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla who asked me if I was going to be at the Rio that day. I told him I was planning to attend the bracelet ceremony since a good friend of mine, Ryan La Plante, was going to be awarded his first gold bracelet (Ryan won the 2016 PLO event.)

Nolan then asked me to be part of the bracelet ceremony. Two players were to get bracelets that day, and I had the honor of presenting Rep Porter with his. Rep is a role model for our community and has more than $2.9 million in tournament winnings and now has three bracelets.

After we left the stage, Nolan called up Ryan La Plante. Ryan beamed as he received his bracelet. Then he approached the microphone and made a very emotional speech which I will attempt to paraphrase here. Ryan said, “I wasn’t planning to make a speech, but June is Gay Pride month and last night at a gay dance club in Orlando, the largest shooting massacre in US history occurred in which more than 50 people lost their lives and even more were sent to the hospital. So even though I wasn’t planning to speak, I have four things to say. First, there are so many people I’m grateful for who have been supportive to me over the past years, especially my fiancé Chris Katona…I love him so much! (Crowd applauds!) Second, I’m proud to be a WSOP champion. (Crowd applauds!) Third, I’m proud to call myself an openly gay man. (Crowd applauds!) I encourage you all to be proud of who you are and to be comfortable enough with yourselves to be open to those around you if you desire to do so. Fourth, please treat each other with love and respect because there is too much hate and ignorance in this world.” (Crowd applauds!)

Ryan spoke from his heart. He is very articulate for his 26 years on this earth. He shed tears, as did many of us who had the honor of hearing his speech. I have huge admiration and respect for Ryan. He showed great courage addressing the 1,500 poker players in the room with his message; I was impressed and encouraged to see them nod support and break into loud rounds of applause throughout Ryan’s talk. IF there was a hater in the room, he or she was silent.

Most of us are sickened by the acts of a mad man who targeted the Orlando gay community. There is outrage around the world. The hatred has to stop, but how do we go about teaching people tolerance? I think it has to start at home. I encourage parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. to grab their family members and their friends and have a sobering talk with them about the harmful effects of prejudice, bigotry, racism, and intolerance. I am lucky to have a mother who taught me to respect other people and their differences; we need more moms like mine.

I have been participating in the WSOP for the past 36 years and have lots of great memories. Witnessing the support Ryan got from the poker community as he talked about treating each other with love and respect will remain one of my fondest memories of all. Congratulations to Ryan La Plante and to everyone in attendance in the Brasilia Room and to the WSOP!

Linda Johnson
Card Player Cruises