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Activists, Orlando officials mark four years since Pulse nightclub massacre

Gunman killed 49 people on June 12, 2016

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The makeshift memorial at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on May 31, 2020 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Friday marks four years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“Four years have now passed, but our community’s commitment to honoring the 49 angels and supporting the survivors, families of the victims and first responders remains strong,” tweeted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who was in office on June 12, 2016, when the massacre took place.

The onePULSE Foundation, a group founded by Pulse owner Barbara Poma that is planning to build a permanent memorial, on Friday will hold a virtual ceremony to honor the massacre’s victims. The coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers not to hold an in-person commemoration this year.

“We are grateful for the tremendous support of the community and would love nothing more than to have our community members join us in remembering our 49 Angels, and honoring our survivors and first responders, but we must prioritize the health and safety of the public, the Pulse community, and our employees,” said Poma in a statement. “We ask the community to join together again, in a different way this year, as a symbol of strength and solidarity in the face of tragedy, forever proving: We will not let hate win.”

Nearly half of the massacre’s victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has ordered flags in her city to be lowered to half-mast. Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, on Friday visited a memorial in a San Juan park that honors the victims.

“Love always wins — always,” said Serrano in a tweet that shows him visiting the memorial.

 

An interim memorial has opened at the nightclub, which is less than two miles from downtown Orlando.

Scott Bowman of the onePulse Foundation on Thursday said $19 million has been raised for the permanent memorial that will have three components: The National Pulse Memorial, the Museum and Education Center and the Orlando Health Survivors Walk. Bowman told the Los Angeles Blade the Orlando Health Survivors Walk’s groundbreaking will take place next April.

The Orlando Sentinel on Friday reported U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who represents portions of Orlando, has introduced a bill that would designate Pulse as a national memorial. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis designated Friday as “Pulse Remembrance Day” and ordered flags in the state lowered to half-staff.

 

Pulse nightclub, Orlando, gay news, Washington Blade
A large American flag behind the picture of a gay couple who died inside the Pulse nightclub at memorial in downtown Orlando, Fla., that grew in size in the days after the massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and it renewed calls for gun control in this country.

Equality Florida — along with the Human Rights Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Giffords Law Center — on Friday issued a report that documents gun violence’s impact on LGBTQ people. The report, among other things, notes nearly 80 percent of Black transgender women who have been killed since 2013 were shot to death.

“Gun safety is an LGBTQ issue, plain and simple,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.

This year’s commemorations of the massacre are taking place amid continued protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. President Trump is also running for re-election.

Equality Florida has announced it plans to target 500,000 “pro-equality voters in the state of Florida with the goal of ensuring they have updated registrations, resources to educate themselves on where candidates stand on equality, and sign up to receive their ballots by mail.”

“When we set out on this journey four years ago, Equality Florida promised to do the work of uprooting hate and violence,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders in a press release. “Dismantling systems of racism and homophobia requires that pro-equality voters make our voices heard and ensure our votes shape who represents us and what policies they champion.”

“We live in the most important political real estate in the country and pro-equality voters are positioned to make the difference between a state that will be won or lost by 100,000 votes,” he added. “In 2020 we’re going to leave it all on the field.” 

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Pérez and Earl Fowlkes, who chairs the DNC’s LGBTQ Caucus, on Friday issued a statement that acknowledged the massacre’s fourth anniversary.

Trump in the days after the massacre reiterated his calls that the U.S. should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Pérez and Fowlkes in their statement said Trump “took advantage of the tragedy at Pulse to attack immigrants and Muslims, as he has continued to throughout his presidency.”

“Instead of advocating for commonsense gun reform or equal rights, he sought to divide Americans during a crisis — as he has during today’s twin public health crises of coronavirus and systemic racism,” added Pérez and Fowlkes. “Throughout his presidency, Trump has uprooted LGBTQ+ rights, attacked our access to health care, separated families, and fanned the flames of bigotry and hate. We need Joe Biden as president to unite Americans and continue our long march toward a more equal country.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere in a statement to the Blade acknowledged the massacre’s anniversary.

“The horrible attack on the LGBT community at the Pulse nightclub four years ago is just one of many reasons why President Trump has made it a top priority to root out radical Islamic extremists wherever they hide,” said Deere. “As the president has said, we will never forget the 49 individuals who were senselessly murdered that night.” 

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U.S. Federal Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States”

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Screenshot/YouTube SCOTUS TV via the Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In oaths administered by the Chief Justice John Roberts and outgoing Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 51 year-old Justice Jackson made history as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon Thursday (Eastern) after his nearly 28 years of service on the nation’s high court.

In the simple ceremony held at the Court, Jackson in the constitutional oath, given by Chief Justice Roberts, solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Breyer gave her the statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

The newly sworn-in Associate Justice was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s ceremony allows her to immediately begin work as the newest member of the nine-seat Supreme Court.

Nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, in April at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, addressing the audience of members of Congress, the Biden Cabinet, and White House staff along with family and invited guests, Justice Jackson noted;

“As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

As the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court which she noted in her remarks:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’ve made it, all of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible.“

Quoting Maya Angelou, an American author, poet and civil rights activist, “I am the hope and the dream of the slave,” Jackson said.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Biden’s ability to enforce immigration laws

In its 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld President Biden’s broad presidential powers to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and policies. In a 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, which barred most Central American migrants from entering the United States to seek asylum.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh rejected arguments by Republican-led states in the case known as Biden v. Texas that were seeking to force the administration to keep the policy enacted under former President Trump.

The Chief Justice writing for the majority held that the decision to end it did not violate a 1996 migrant detention law and that a second memo terminating the program should have been considered by lower federal courts. 

In his opinion, Roberts overturned the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that forced border officials to revive the Remain in Mexico rules, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols this past December. The Chief Justice noted that the 1996 law which authorizes the program does not mandate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to return migrants to Mexico, but allows them the option to do so. Roberts referenced use of the word “may” in the statute.

If Congress meant for the law to require asylum-seekers to be returned to Mexico, Roberts wrote, “it would not have conveyed that intention through an unspoken inference in conflict with the unambiguous, express term ‘may.'”

Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett filed separate dissenting opinions, parts of which were joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision today in Biden v. Texas:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping, and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.

“I urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all. Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system. We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

This is a developing story.

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Illinois

Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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