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Orlando marks the fifth anniversary of the Pulse massacre

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy.”

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Pulse Nightclub (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ORLANDO, FL – On that morning five summers ago this date, survivors gathered, stunned and grieving over the horror that had been visited upon them and others frantically calling phones that would never be answered again while a community took stock of the mass murder that had claimed the lives of forty-nine innocents. June, 12, 2016 joined a litany of dates of death and suffering in American history this time impacting the LGBTQ community and beyond.

Saturday, survivors and community leaders gather in Orlando, Florida to commemorate and honor those 49 American lives lost in that act of senseless gun violence.

“Orlando was called to action on June 12, 2016. Our city was asked to find in ourselves the strength to respond with empathy when faced with an unthinkable act of violence. We are still working every day to honor the 49 angels and every person impacted by the Pulse tragedy with action. Together, we continue to make Orlando a more inclusive, welcoming and equitable community for all,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. ““Orlando United” was our call to action five years ago, but it is up to us all to ensure that this isn’t simply a slogan that we bring out annually as we mark the time that’s passed since the tragedy. Instead, it must be part of our core commitment to real change.”

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly half of the victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The massacre also sparked renewed calls for gun control.

Poma told the Blade that she expects construction will begin on a “Survivor’s Walk” at the site by the end of the year. A museum — which she described as an “education center” that will “talk about the history of the LGBT community and its struggles and stripes for the last century or so … about why safe spaces were important to this community” and what happened at Pulse and the global response to it — will be built a third of a mile away.

“We really feel it is important to never forget what happened at Pulse and to tell the story of that,” said Poma.

Poma noted the onePULSE Foundation of which she is the executive director met with representatives of the 9/11 Tribute Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to discuss the memorial. Poma when she spoke with the Blade acknowledged the plans have been criticized.

“This kind of opposition is not unique to these kind of projects,” she said. “It’s just important to know that really what we’re trying to do is make sure what happened is never forgotten and those lives were never forgotten,” added Poma.

In a rare bipartisan move, a bill that designates the former Pulse nightclub a national memorial was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate this past Wednesday.

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry. We’re proud of the bipartisan coalition of Florida Congressional leaders for leading the effort to recognize this hallowed ground as a national memorial site.,” Brandon J. Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and a Pulse survivor told the Blade. “Our visibility matters. May the 49 lives stolen never be forgotten. And may we always honor them with action.”

Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugging Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as Biden and President Obama meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Then U.S. President Barack Obama embracing Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as he and Joe Biden meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. ” Wolf added.

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy. The nation may have watched and grieved with us, but the pain that you may be feeling is personal. I want you to know that we embrace you with love, not as symbols but as yourselves. If you are struggling, there is help available, and I encourage you to reach out,” said U.S. House Representative Val Demings (D-FL)

“It can be hard to find the words, because the truth is that no words can make this right for the survivors and families of those we lost. That’s why five years ago we promised to ‘honor them with action,’ not just with words. As we move forward from this anniversary, it is my prayer that all of us will recommit ourselves to that mission, to ensure that every Pulse survivor—and every American—can live in a nation where each person is safe to go out to a nightclub or any other place, where our LGBTQ community is protected, where the highest-quality mental health support is available to those who need it, and where we treat gun violence as the threat that it is to our loved ones. I know that we can do better, and as we commemorate this sorrowful anniversary, I believe that we must do better.”

In Washington, California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, co-sponsor of legislation to make Pulse a National Memorial reflected,

“It is my hope that this memorial will serve as an enduring reminder of the pain and loss felt in Orlando five years ago and as a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also an important reminder of the need recommit ourselves to end the senseless cycle of gun violence that has touched too many families across the country and taken too many of our loved ones,” Padilla told the Blade in an emailed statement.

“It’s an epidemic that has claimed far too many LGBTQ+ lives, particularly in Black and Latino communities. We will never let the memory of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting fade away– and this memorial is an important part of their enduring legacy,” he added.

The White House on Saturday released a statement from President Biden who had traveled and met with survivors and the families of the victims 5 days after the massacre while he was the vice-president of the United States under President Barack Obama.

“Five years ago today in Orlando in the middle of Pride Month, our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQ+ community in American history, and at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman.

Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss. Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever – the victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino – our fellow Americans.

A few days later, I traveled with President Obama to pay respects to them and their families, to thank the brave first responders and the community who found strength and compassion in each other, and to pledge that what happened would not be forgotten. 

Over the years, I have stayed in touch with families of the victims and with the survivors who have turned their pain into purpose, and who remind us that we must do more than remember victims of gun violence and all of the survivors, family members, and friends left behind; we must act.

In the coming days, I will sign a bill designating Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial, enshrining in law what has been true since that terrible day five years ago: Pulse Nightclub is hallowed ground.

But there is more we must do to address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms – mass shootings and daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines.

It is long past time we close the loopholes that allow gun buyers to bypass background checks in this country, and the Senate should start by passing the three House-passed bills which would do exactly that. It is long past time we ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, establish extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws, and eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

We must also acknowledge gun violence’s particular impact on LGBTQ+ communities across our nation. We must drive out hate and inequities that contribute to the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women – especially transgender women of color. We must create a world in which our LGBTQ+ young people are loved, accepted, and feel safe in living their truth. And the Senate must swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation that will ensure LGBTQ+ Americans finally have equal protection under law.

In the memory of all of those lost at the Pulse nightclub five years ago, let us continue the work to be a nation at our best – one that recognizes and protects the dignity and safety of every American.”

The Orlando Sentinel published a series of podcasts with PULSE survivors. Here’s a link to the interview with Brandon Wolf on June 11, 2021:

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/conversations-podcast/os-ne-s6-pulse-5-years-later-brandon-wolf-podcast-ep-3-20210611-2klfsi4xw5ay5dau3hlj62eqp4-story.html

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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Florida

National Trans Visibility March steps off in Orlando on its way to L.A.

The organizers of the third annual celebration moved the march out of Washington, D.C. for the very first time

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Marchers paraded through Orlando, Fla. Saturday as part of the National Trans Visibility March, the first one to be held outside Washington, D.C. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

ORLANDO – Hundreds of out transgender people and allies from across Florida and from as far away as Southern California gathered in Orlando Saturday to rally and to march, demanding justice, equality and acceptance. 

Chanting, “Trans Solidarity,” and “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Transphobia Has Got To Go!” participants in the 3rd annual National Trans Visibility March stepped off for their first march to be held outside Washington, D.C. This was also the first in-person parade since last year’s march was held mostly virtually, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are so many of us who feel excluded from our cities and our communities,” said Ariel Savage of Riverside, Calif. 

“Visibility and support is crucial,” declared Savage, 24, in one of the stirring speeches to the crowd at a rally on the shores of Orlando’s Lake Eola, just prior to the march. “We are here today at the National Trans Visibility March because we are real and we have had enough!”

Ariel Savage delivers a speech prior to the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. — Video by Dawn Ennis

“It just goes to showcase the collective love that we, as trans people, have for each other, and that even in a world that excludes us and locks doors on us, we keep marching and we keep breaking those doors down every day,” Savage later told the Los Angeles Blade. She’s the policy director at TruEvolution, a Riverside-based nonprofit focused on racial justice and providing health services and emergency housing for LGBTQ+ people. “The Inland Empire has a lot of work to do,” she said, calling it “not necessarily the most accepting environment.” This was her first visit to Orlando.  

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many trans people in one place before,” Savage said. “It feels very beautiful to be in a place where I’m not scared and I just feel excited and happy and at peace.”

Flynn, left, was accompanied by his mother, Michelle and her cousin, Rochelle, at the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

Flynn, who is 14 and from Orlando, held a sign decorated in the blue, white and pink colors of the transgender flag that said, “I’m so proud to be me.” He marched with his mother, Michelle, and her cousin Rochelle, who is lesbian. Flynn said he’d known he was a trans boy since sixth grade but only recently came out to his mom. “Of course, I was confused, at first,” said Michelle, of Orlando. “But since then, I have educated myself and I’ve joined  parent groups and I support him fully.” 

Florida’s ban on trans student-athletes and similar laws in eight other states are worrisome for Flynn’s family, his mother said. “It does worry me as a mom, because I want to protect my kids. But I also want him to be who he is. I think it’s really important as parents to support our children.”
March organizers say they chose both this location, and the weekend of Orlando Pride, to show unity with the larger LGBTQ community. “Orlando has a spirit of heart and love, and we wanted it to be here to celebrate with them,” said NTVM executive director, CEO and founder Marissa Miller.

Marissa Miller, executive director, CEO and founder of the National Trans Visibility March, spoke at Friday night’s Torch Awards in Downtown Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Melody Maia Monet

Following the march, members of the transgender community and allies formed a special contingent in the annual LGBTQ Pride Parade through Downtown Orlando, holding aloft a huge Trans Pride flag.

Transgender marchers and allies held aloft a huge Trans Pride Flag, designed by Monica Helms, as they joined the LGBTQ Pride Parade in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Josh Bell, Executive Director, One Orlando Alliance

Next year, the march moves to Los Angeles, according to Come Out With Pride’s  communications director, YouTuber Melody Maia Monet, who first brought the idea for combining the Orlando events to her board of directors. She’s been out 11 years and said she’s excited to see how Pride has evolved in her adopted hometown of Orlando.

Melody Maia Monet, center, held a sign saying, “Visible 4 Those Who Can’t Be” as she marched in Saturday’s National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis

“What I really love is that we’re kind of moving away from the binary,” Monet said. “When you walk around this place, not just the National Trans Visibility March area, but all around Lake Eola Park, where we’re having Come Out With Pride, you’ll see people of basically every stripe under the rainbow, you know? So I think that is that is a great thing to see.”

Nonbinary marchers took part in Saturday’s National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Fla. — Photo by Dawn Ennis
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Florida

GOP introduces bill to criminalize Trans youth healthcare in Florida

“Rep. Sabatini has cultivated a reputation for extremist bills & GOP leaders in Tallahassee are increasingly embracing his extremism”

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Blade file photo

TALLAHASSEE – The Transgender Youth Medical Care Ban Bill, HB 211 filed Wednesday by State Representative Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont) would criminalize doctors for providing life-saving care for transgender youth.

The language of the bill reads;

An act relating to youth gender and sexual identity; creating s. 456.0335, F.S.; providing a short title; defining the term “sex”; providing criminal penalties for health care practitioners who perform or cause to be performed specified practices on a minor under certain conditions; providing applicability […]

In response, Equality Florida’s Executive Director Nadine Smith said;

Make no mistake, this legislation has nothing to do with the health and safety of children. In fact, it gets in the way of doctors providing care and stops parents from doing what is best for their kids. The bill filed today by Representative Anthony Sabatini is cut and paste language from right-wing political strategy groups like the Heritage Foundation that seek to put a target on the backs of transgender youth as an election strategy to mobilize far-right voters. 

Rep. Sabatini has cultivated a reputation for sponsoring extremist bills, and GOP leaders in Tallahassee are increasingly embracing his extremism. They’re making passage of language first introduced by him a legislative priority, including last session’s Transgender Youth Sports Ban.

Leadership has fired their first shot across the bow of LGBTQ equality for the 2022 legislative session and we will fight to protect the health and safety of every child they target.

Florida’s Republicans have continuously legislated against the state’s Trans community over the past year’s legislative sessions.

Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1028, a bill that bars Trans youth athletes from participating in sports on the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month 2021. One provision of the law stipulates that a transgender student athlete would have to affirm her biological sex by supplying proof such as a birth certificate.

The bill was an education bill amended to include a previous stand alone bill specifically targeting transgender girls and young women, banning them from playing on female sports teams. DeSantis signed the bill, which includes the so-called Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, during a news conference at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

A spokesperson for Equality Florida, Brandon J. Wolf wrote in an email to the Blade commenting on earlier anti-Trans efforts;

Shame on every lawmaker who embraced discrimination at the expense of the state’s most vulnerable youth. […] Only through fast-tracked backroom deals could GOP lawmakers maneuver this cruel assault on transgender kids to the Governor’s desk.
This is not the end. To our transgender youth in Florida: we will never stop fighting for a Florida where you are loved and have every opportunity to thrive
.”

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