Supporters of Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, and other activists specifically criticized Rubio for his decision to deliver the keynote address at the “Rediscovering God in America” conference that began on Thursday.
The American Renewal Project is organizing the two-day gathering that is taking place at the Hyatt Regency Orlando.
Mat Staver, chair of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT legal group that represented Rowan County (Ky.) Clerk Kim Davis, is among those who are scheduled to speak at the conference that is taking place two months after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub. Bill Federer, who said in 2015 that Europe will soon be “taken over by Islam” because it has embraced a “neutral-secular-gay agenda,” is also expected to address the hundreds of people who are expected to attend.
Trump is expected to speak at the conference on Thursday.
“We will never allow bigotry and hatred to go unchecked in our backyard,” Hannah Willard of Equality Florida told the Washington Blade after a press conference at which family members of the Pulse nightclub massacre victims, local activists and clergy spoke.
DNC: Trump, Rubio to ‘disavow these anti-gay extremists’
The hotel in which the conference is taking place is located roughly 10 miles from the Pulse nightclub.
The gunman — an American who was born to parents from Afghanistan — pledged his allegiance to the so-called Islamic State during the massacre. His father, who attended a Hillary Clinton rally in Kissimmee, Fla., earlier this week, told reporters that his son had recently become “very angry” when he saw two men kissing in Miami.
Trump reiterated his calls to temporarily ban Muslins from entering the U.S. in the wake of the June 12 massacre that is the deadliest in recent U.S. history. The Republican presidential said during a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday that President Obama “founded” the so-called Islamic State.
“Instead of honoring the memory of those we lost at Pulse two months ago, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have come to Orlando to headline a gathering of some of the nation’s most incendiary anti-gay bigots,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile and Earl Fowlkes, chair of the DNC LGBT Caucus, in a joint statement they issued on Thursday. “We at the DNC join all people of good conscience in expressing our solidarity with the Orlando LGBT community as they continue to grieve the deadliest shooting in American history.”
“We suggest Trump and Rubio disavow these anti-gay extremists who have likened gay people to Nazis and characterized HIV/AIDS as divine ‘penalties’ for being gay,” they added. “Failing to do so will be yet another example of the utter lack of judgment that makes Trump unfit to serve.”
Rubio, who has endorsed Trump, defended his decision to speak at the conference in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
“The event I will speaking at in Orlando is a gathering of local pastors and faith leaders,” said the Florida Republican who announced his re-election bid after ending his presidential campaign earlier this year. “Leave it to the media and liberal activists to label a gathering of faith leaders as an anti-LGBT event.”
“It is nothing of the sort,” added Rubio. “It is a celebration of faith.”
Pelosi to visit Pulse nightclub
The conference is taking place roughly two weeks after Christine Leinonen, the mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, one of the gay victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, spoke in support of gun control during an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) are among the Republicans who have signed a resolution in support of banning anti-LGBT discrimination in Florida. Orlando “El Fenómeno” Cruz, a gay Puerto Rican boxer, dedicated a fight to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre that took place in Kissimmee, Fla., on the eve of last month’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Clinton placed a bouquet of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub on July 22 after she met privately with some of the family members and friends of the massacre victims and local advocates. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is scheduled to visit the site on Thursday and meet with those who lost loved ones.
A Trump campaign spokesperson has not returned the Blade’s request for comment on the conference or whether he plans to visit the Pulse nightclub.