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Reporters hammer Carney on marriage, Biden’s remarks

W.H. spox has no updates, says Duncan was speaking his own views



White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary faced a litany of questions Monday on same-sex marriage following favorable remarks on the issue that Vice President Joe Biden gave earlier in the week.

The preponderance of the daily news briefing consisted of inquiries attempting to square President Obama’s ongoing evolution with the remarks on same-sex marriage from Biden, who said Sunday he’s “absolutely comfortable” with married gay couples having the same rights as straight couples.

Carney referred to clarification immediately issued Sunday from the vice president’s office saying Biden’s views were in the line with the president — despite his remarks earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I have no update on the president’s personal views,” Carney said. “What the vice president said  yesterday was to make the same point that the president has made previously. Committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protection enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights.”

Carney said Biden’s comments stirred “a little bit of an overreaction” and said clarification went out from the vice president’s office because reporters sent inquiries and media outlets had the No. 2 in the administration had endorsed same-sex marriage.

As he’s done in the past, Carney said he has no updates on Obama’s marriage evolution; listed the president’s LGBT accomplishments, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; and reiterated the Obama opposes discriminatory efforts against gay couples.

While Biden remarks made up the lion’s share of the questions. Carney also faced questions on  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier in the day on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Carney said the Cabinet official was offering his personal views on the matter.

“Secretary Duncan was asked a question on his personal views on an issue, and he offered them,” Carney said. “Obviously, this is an issue that many people have a view on, and we respect the right of all people to have a personal opinion.”

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney dodged when asked whether he remembers the vice president speaking so favorably as he did in Sunday on the issue of same-sex marriage. Before becoming White House press secretary, Carney was Biden’s communications director for the first two years of the Obama administration.

“I think I will simply point you to what the vice president said yesterday, and the vice president supports this president’s policies in support for LGBT rights,” Carney said.

Carney gave a similar dodge when pressed when asked whether Biden’s remarks represent a sign of progress for the administration on the marriage evolution.

“I would just point you to what the vice president said,” Carney said.

On Sunday, Biden said he’s “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of married gay couples having the “same exact rights” as straight couples, which was reported by many media outlets and bloggers as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Biden’s office has said his comments weren’t anything new and the vice president is evolving on the issue like President Obama.

The president himself has yet to articulate support for same-sex marriage. In October 2010, Obama said in response to a question from AMERICAblog’s Joe Sudbay that he could evolve to support marriage equality, but hasn’t yet made any announcement.

During the news briefing, ABC News’ Jake Tapper pointed to comments that Obama has made — most recently in Rolling Stone Magazine — saying he doesn’t want to “make news” on his position on same-sex marriage. Tapper said the comment suggests Obama actually supports marriage equality, but doesn’t want to express that view.

In response, Carney said Tapper was making his own characterization of the president’s views on marriage.

“I think when people have asked him that and he has no update to give them or no change in his views to put forward that he’s simply saying that, I have nothing new for you on that; his position is what it was,” Carney said.

Carney said Obama’s record is “considerable and unparalleled” and proceeded to mention some LGBT accomplishments, but Tapper said he doesn’t “want to hear the same talking points 15 times in a row.” Carney responded the president’s accomplishments are serious work.

“We’re talking — talking points to you; serious, substantial rights to others, OK?” Carney said. “Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a serious matter. The efforts that this administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens are a serious matter.”

In the end, Tapper accused of the administration of being “cynical” by withholding Obama’s support for same-sex marriage presumably until after Election Day.

“And if that is the likely future of the president and this position, given that you don’t have any news to drop on it, or probably his mind has been made up, why not just come out and say it and let voters decide?” Tapper said. “It seems — it seems cynical to hide this until after the election.”

Other noteworthy inquiries why the president opposes bans on same-sex marriage, but doesn’t support same-sex itself. Another reporter from NPR asked whether marriage is a civil liberty, prompting Carney to defer the question to a “civil libertarian.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler asked whether Obama wants the Democratic Party platform to conform to his views on marriage as LGBT advocates have been pushing for an inclusion of same-sex marriage in the document. Carney deferred the inquiry to the Democratic National Committee.

A transcript of the exchange between Carney and marriage questions follows:

Q:  …This morning, the Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, put himself on record in favor of gay marriage. Yesterday, the vice president indicated something along the same lines.  Does this box the President in ahead of the election?  Have his views changed at all on this subject?

Jay Carney:  Well, I have no update on the president’s personal views. What the vice president said yesterday was to make the same point that the president has made previously, that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights. That’s why this administration opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and supports legislation to repeal it. The administration also has stopped defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges.

Secretary Duncan was asked a question about his personal views on an issue and he offered them.  And obviously this is an issue that many people have a view on and we respect the right of all people to have an opinion — a personal opinion.

Q: If asked at this point a similar question for his personal view, would the president give it?

Carney: I think the President is the right person to describe his own personal views. He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving, and I don’t have an update for you on that.

Q: Jay, the president has raised millions of dollars from LGBT donors, many of whom say that they believe in a second term the President will come out in support of gay marriage.  So doesn’t he owe them — or owe voters in general — his direct response and just stop dancing around the issue and telling voters will he or won’t he support gay marriage in a second term?

Carney: The president was asked this and said that his views on — his personal views on this were evolving. The president does have, as you noted, significant support in the LGBT community, and that’s because of his unparalleled record in support of LGBT rights. That includes the fight to repeal successfully “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It includes signing hate crimes legislation that includes LGBT persons. It includes ending a legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.  It includes ensuring hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, and I could go on. His record on the LGBT rights is simply unparalleled, and he will continue to fight for those rights going forward.

Q:  Jay, on June 23, he told an LGBT audience, “Everybody deserves to be able to live and love as they see fit.  I don’t have to tell the people in this room we’ve got a ways to go in the struggle.” What is he referring to if not gay marriage?

Carney: Well, I think you have heard him say and those in the administration like myself who speak for him that he strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights, to repeal rights for same-sex couples. He has made his opposition to those efforts in various states known and will continue to do so.

I think it’s a statement of obvious fact that full enjoyment of rights by LGBT citizens has not been achieved uniformly across the country.  And that’s why he has taken a stand on — in opposition to efforts in some states to deny those rights and discriminate against LGBT citizens.

Q: So can you explain then clearly what — how Vice President Biden, who said, there is a consensus building toward gay marriage in this nation, and then came out yesterday saying that he is absolutely comfortable with men marrying men and women marrying women having equal rights, is not an endorsement of gay marriage?

Carney:  Well, I think the Vice President expressed his personal views.  He also said he was evolving on the issue.

Q: He did not say that, Jay.

Carney: He did.

Q: No. His spokesperson said that afterwards.

Carney:  Let me just be clear, though.  The vice president — what he said about the protection of rights of citizens is completely consistent with the president’s position on this issue, and his description of the way the country has moved on this issue I think is wholly accurate. I think we all have seen the data that describes an evolution of views across the country on these issues. So I don’t think there’s anything surprising about him saying that.

Q: You’re trying to have it both ways before an election.

Carney:  No. Look, this President has been extremely aggressive in supporting LGBT rights. He fought against those who oppose the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and achieved that in this administration. There are those who want to bring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” back. He very robustly fights against efforts to restrict or deny rights to LGBT citizens and discriminate against them, and he’ll continue to do so.

And again, you didn’t want to hear it, but there’s a long, long list of the actions that this administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens in this country. And that’s a record that the President is very proud of.

Q: Okay. And back to the same-sex marriage issue. I think one of the issues is that when asked about the president’s position, the president no longer said he is evolving on the issue. He says, I don’t have any news to make on that. That’s what Stephanie Cutter, a few minutes ago on cable said — I don’t have any news for you. The suggestion is that there is news there and you guys are just waiting for the proper time to drop it, likely after November.

Carney:  I think that’s your characterization, Jake.

Q: I think that’s what it means —

Carney:  I think the president said that he was evolving, and he had — I think when people have asked him that and he has no update to give them or no change in his views to put forward, that he’s simply saying that I have nothing new for you on that. His position is what it was. And that’s with regards to his personal views.

What I think needs to be remembered here is what he has done in office in support of LGBT rights. And that record is extensive and considerable and unparalleled. And he’ll continue to fight for those rights as long as he’s in office.

Q: Positing that the president has done more for LGBT individuals than any other President in history — so you don’t need to say that again — the question is —

Carney: But I will.

Q: Just for this question. When you get to Norah, whatever you want. But the question is, I think there are very few people who think that the president is not going to, after November, whether he’s reelected or not, come out in favor of same-sex marriage. I think there are very few people on the president’s campaign who doubt that; very few people who support the president, very few people who oppose the president who have any doubt that that is what is going to likely happen. And if that is the likely future of the president and this position, given that you don’t have any news to drop on it where probably his mind has been made up, why not just come out and say it and let voters decide?  It seems cynical to hide this until after the election.

Carney: Jake, I think the president’s position is well known. He’s spoken to this. It’s gotten a great deal of coverage. I don’t have an update to provide you on the President’s position. It is what it was. I’m sorry you don’t want to hear about the president’s support for LGBT rights because it’s considerable.

Q: It’s not that I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t want to hear the same talking points 15 times in a row.

Carney: I think the — talking points to you; serious substantial rights to others.  Okay?  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t tTell” is a serious matter. The efforts that this administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens are serious matters.

Q:  I’m not belittling that, Jay. We’re talking about same-sex marriage.

Carney:  I think that’s the context of this discussion. I just don’t have anything more to give to you on the issue of the President’s views.

Q: Because he’s still evolving.  Not because you don’t have news for me, it’s because he’s still evolving.

Carney:  It is as it was, yes.


Q: Why does the president oppose same-sex marriage?

Carney: I would just point you to what the president has said in the past, both during his campaign for President in 2008 and in answer to a question at the end of 2010. I really don’t have an update for you, Norah.

Q: Is the President comfortable with the fact of men marrying men and women marrying women?

Carney:  The president is comfortable with same-sex couples, as the president — the vice president said, being entitled to the same rights and the civil rights and civil liberties as other Americans. And that’s why he has fought for those equal rights and why he’s opposed efforts to discriminate against LGBT citizens and to take away rights that have been established by law.

Q: Biden — the vice president appears to have evolved on the issue, but the president is still evolving — is that a fair characterization?

Carney: I will leave it to individuals to describe their own personal views. What I can explain to you is what the president’s positions are on issues, the actions he has taken at a policy level on behalf of LGBT Americans, and his commitment to continue to take actions on their behalf to protect and defend their rights.

Q: Let me ask you this.  You have a number of Democratic governors throughout this country — Governor O’Malley, Governor Cuomo, Governor Malloy, to name a view, now the vice president, who all support same-sex marriage. Why doesn’t President Obama support same-sex marriage?

Carney:  I just don’t have an update for you, Norah, on the president’s position on his personal views. I can tell you that he is a absolutely committed supporter of LGBT rights. His record bears that out. It is an unparalleled record of support for LGBT citizens and their rights, and he’s proud of it and he’ll run on it.

And I think that it’s important to remember when we talk about those accomplishments under this administration that they are far more than talking points; they are considerable, serious demonstrations of progress, important progress — progress that others would take away and reverse.  This president is committed to not letting that happen.

Q: When you now say the vice president is evolving — he did not say that, as was pointed out, but he used some key words beyond what Norah just quoted.  He also said that they are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. Does that mean he supports same-sex marriage? 

Carney: I was pointing to this statement that the vice president’s office put out yesterday describing his statements, and I don’t have any elaboration on that. I can tell you that what he said is completely consistent in that paragraph with the President’s views that LGBT citizens should enjoy the same rights and that they should not be discriminated against. And efforts to take away those rights are something that this President strongly opposes.

Q: But how come when the president proposes something like the American Jobs Act — you could name anything — and he says — he travels around the country and says, you’re entitled to press members of Congress, tell them, are they for this or are they against it — why can’t you from this podium say whether or not the President supports or opposes same-sex marriage?

Carney: Well, I can tell you that the president has spoken about this, and that his views have not changed and I have no update to give you on them.

Q: Why did the administration feel like they had to put out a statement clarifying what the vice president said?

Carney: Well, I don’t know that the — the office of the vice president put out a statement.  I think that there was a lot of interest generated by the comments and the office of the vice president put out a statement to make it clear what the vice president was saying.

But again, I think that there is a little bit of an overreaction here.  The Vice President supports and made clear he supports the President’s policies when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBT citizens, and he also has his own personal views about the issue, as does the President, as do most people.  So the President’s record on LGBT rights is extensive, and he is committed to working to move forward on that issue.

Q: Is it fair to say that publicly the president and the vice president disagree on gay marriage?

Carney:  No, I don’t think that’s what the vice president said yesterday. But again, I don’t think that’s the point. The president and the vice president and everyone in this administration support the initiatives that this president has taken to protect and defend the rights of all Americans, including LGBT Americans.

Q: When it came to the issue of marriage before, there was a time when the president was somebody who believed in deferring it to the states. Does he still feel that way?

Carney: Well, the president believes that the states are deciding this issue, and he has made clear —

Q: — clearly a state issue, not a federal issue?

Carney: Well, I think that we certainly oppose efforts to take away rights at a federal level, which some politicians suppose — a constitutional amendment to deny rights to LGBT Americans across the country — we oppose that. The president opposes that. States have taken action on this issue, and the President believes that when the process works that it’s a positive thing. He also opposes efforts in states to repeal rights or deny rights to LGBT citizens that have already been established.

Q:  So what would that put him — where would the president be then on the amendment in North Carolina that would ban gay marriage?

Carney:  The president, through the campaign — but the same person opposes efforts to deny the rights of citizens in any state where those rights have been established.

Q: So he opposes — so help me out there. He opposes bans on gay marriage but he doesn’t yet support gay marriage? 

Carney: The record is clear that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. That is a position he has taken that precedes his taking a position in North Carolina. It’s a position he’s taken in other states where this has been an issue. Yes, he is opposed to efforts in states to deny rights that have been provided to citizens.

Q: You understand why there is so much confusion because you’re saying he opposes bans on gay marriage but he’s not yet for gay marriage.  I mean, that’s —

Carney:  He believes that the states are — marriage is a state issue, and the states have the right to take action on it. What he opposes is efforts to repeal rights that have been granted to LGBT citizens. He thinks that’s discriminatory and wrong.

Q:  There’s going to be an effort this summer to have support for gay marriage as part of the Democratic platform. Does the president believe it’s important that the platform reflects his views?

Carney: Well, on the issue of the platform, which hasn’t been developed yet, I would refer you to the DNC.

Q: My question was whether the president — this is a question for the president — whether the President thinks that the platform just kind of doesn’t matter, which some people say, or whether it really is a statement of his views whatever those may be?

Carney: I think it’s a statement of the party’s view and has long been that. But I don’t have — I haven’t had that discussion with him. But I think a platform is a statement of a party’s views. It is called a Democratic or Republican Party platform. But for questions about the development of that platform I’d refer you to the DNC.

Q: He is the head of his party.

Carney: Again, I don’t have a different answer for you, Laura. It’s a platform that hasn’t been developed. I would point you to the DNC for questions about it.

Q: Just to get clear on your criteria, you said that you oppose state efforts to take away rights. In North Carolina gays can’t marry now, so what is the reason to oppose North Carolina?

Carney: The referendum would, as I understand it, restrict and deny rights to LGBT Americans. And the president —

Q: That they currently have in North Carolina?

Carney: That’s my understanding, yes.

Q:  Okay. My other question is, is marriage a civil liberty?

Carney:  You have to ask civil libertarians or lawyers.

Q: Well, in the White House view, is marriage a civil liberty?

Carney: We believe that — the president believes strongly that LGBT Americans should enjoy the same legal rights, and he opposes efforts to deny rights to LGBT American and discriminate against them.

Q: Okay. Just another question. It’s pretty rare when somebody runs for office saying, in effect, I’m getting ready to change my mind. And you’ve really savaged Mitt Romney for changing his mind, and I’m wondering if you don’t run some risk of looking kind of too clever by half here.

Carney: Look, I don’t have an update for you on the president’s personal views. He described them in response to a question. This has gotten a great deal of coverage in the past. That’s the answer he has and I don’t have a new answer for you.

Q: But what would you say is the definition of “evolving”? You’ve said it so many times, it has to mean something specific.

Carney: The president said that his views on this are evolving. I think —

Q: Is he getting ready to change?

Carney: Not necessarily. I think he just said they were evolving. And that’s at a personal level. His views on LGBT rights are crystal-clear and this administration has taken actions that are unparalleled to support those rights. And he’ll continue to take those actions because he thinks that’s the right thing to do.


Q: How could his views be crystal-clear if everybody in this room is needing to ask you questions?

Carney: Chris, I think everybody in this room is reacting in the way that folks often do to one story that takes off and then they run down the field and chase it.  They’re reacting to comments on a Sunday show.  Nothing has changed in the President’s firm commitment to LGBT rights and nothing’s changed and I have no new information —

Q:   — position by the White House.

Carney: It’s the same position. It’s not the position of the White House. The President’s position is —

Q:  Then why did you guys send out statements to clarify?

Carney: Because the vice president’s statements were being misinterpreted by some, so he — so there was an effort to clarify it by the office of the vice president.

Q: Jay, what do you think the word “evolving” means?

Carney:  But that’s where the president is, okay.

Q: Is he unevolved?

Carney: April.

Q: That means changing.

Q: Okay, now I have the ball, let me run with it.

Carney: Policy positions haven’t changed, Jake. And I can remind you that his support for LGBT rights is unprecedented and compares favorably to anyone else out there in the political arena who’s advocating for these rights. And he’ll continue to support them.


Q: All right, now I’m going to take the ball and run down the field with it real quick. And I want you to dissect the evolution.

Carney: No, I’m not going to, April. I’m sorry, I don’t have anything new for you.

Q: No, no, no, no. Okay, you’re not going to, but can you at least say yea or nay when I kind of try to — (laughter) — here’s the deal.  Here’s the deal. Before we heard that it was — he was having a hard time marrying issues of his faith and rights. Is that the evolution? Is that where the evolution issue is a holdup?

Carney: The next time the president has a news conference, if you want to ask him that you’re certainly welcome to. I do not have an update for you on the president’s personal views.

Q: Jay, did the president know before yesterday, did the president know that the vice president was comfortable with men marrying men?  Is this something they’ve discussed?

Carney: I don’t have a readout for you of conversations they’ve had on this issue.

Q: Is it something they’ve discussed?

Carney: Again, I don’t have a readout for you of private conversations that they’ve had.

Q:  Thanks, Jay. Is it still accurate to say, then, that President Obama is opposed to gay marriage?

Carney: I would simply say that his views are evolving, which is what he said. And I don’t have an update for you on that issue.


Q: Just to clarify, were you saying that the Vice President’s comments were his personal views?  Were you looping it together with Arne Duncan’s views?

Carney:  The Vice President spoke very clearly about the President’s policies, and they’re entirely consistent with the policies that this President has supported.  He also — he talked about evolution in this country and other issues, and those were personal views. I will simply refer you to the statement that the office of the vice president put out.

Q:  …As someone who’s worked with the vice president before, do you remember him ever speaking so favorably on the issue of same-sex marriage?

Carney: I think I will simply point you to what the vice president said yesterday. The vice president supports this president’s policies in support for LGBT rights.

Q: But is this a sign of progress?

Carney: I would just point you to what the vice president said.

Watch the White House briefing its entirety here (video courtesy White House YouTube page)


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North Dakota lawmakers okay regulation banning Conversion Therapy

This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy



Capitol Building of North Dakota in Bismarck (Photo Credit: State of North Dakota)

BISMARCK, ND. – The North Dakota House Administrative Rules Committee voted 8-7 on Tuesday, June 8, to authorize the rule proposed by the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, implementing new regulations prohibiting licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, which oversees licensing for social workers in the state, created the new rule which states that “it is an ethical violation for a social worker licensed by the board to engage in any practices or treatments that attempt to change or repair the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.”

The West Hollywood based Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, had worked with Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Josh Boschee, the National Association of Social Workers ND Chapter, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and local advocates like Elizabeth Loos to advance these critical protections for LGBTQ youth.

 “This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This practice is not therapy at all— it’s abusive and fraudulent,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “There is still more work to be done in North Dakota, but this bold action will help save young lives. The Trevor Project is committed to an every state strategy to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and North Dakota has proven that progress is possible anywhere.”

“Thank you to the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners for restricting licensed social workers in North Dakota from being able to practice conversion therapy! LGBT North Dakotans, especially youth, are safer now as you hold licensees responsible to the NASW Code of Ethics,” said Minority Leader Boschee. 

The proposed ban on therapist-administered conversion therapy in North Dakota was met with opposition by several of the committee’s most socially conservative members, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told the paper that he worries the new prohibition is limiting because it would prevent people seeking “some kind of treatment” from getting help. Bell said the rule is written so clients who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not inhibited from seeking care.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, said he’s concerned the rule would interfere with religious counseling, adding “there are some cases where people want to change.”

“There are licensed counselors that are also Christians, and basically my concern in all of this is that we’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,'” Satrom said.

Satrom and West Fargo Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman said approving the social workers’ ban on conversion therapy is outside of the committee’s scope and ought to be scrutinized by the full Legislature.

Boschee, the North Dakota Legislature’s only openly gay member, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was disappointed in some of his colleagues for standing behind the “harmful” practice of conversion therapy and trying to muddy the conversation over what is a simple self-imposed rule for social workers. The Fargo Democrat said he was ultimately pleased that seven lawmakers joined him in upholding the proposed ban.


  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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‘We’re still very much in the healing phase’

Saturday marks five years since Pulse nightclub massacre



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

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

A remembrance ceremony will take place at the site, which is now an interim memorial. A number of other events to honor the victims will take place in Orlando and throughout Central Florida over the coming days.

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Washington 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.

Poma on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuits that have been filed against her, her husband and the onePULSE Foundation in the wake of the massacre.

DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies overshadow anniversary

The Blade this week spoke with Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and other activists and elected officials in Florida and Puerto Rico who were part of the immediate response to the massacre.

Equality Florida raised millions of dollars for survivors and victims’ families. CEO Nadine Smith on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Equality Florida in the massacre’s immediate aftermath pledged to honor the victims “with action by uprooting hatred at its source and from that time we have invested deeply in safe and healthy schools.”

“Schools are a shared cultural experience where the attitudes of ignorance and fear and animosity and violence towards others either get challenged or encouraged,” said Smith. “Five years later I look at how far this work has come and at the same time, I’m very aware of the backlash that we are facing, particularly in our schools with laws targeting trans youth specifically.”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 1 signed a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The governor the following day vetoed funding that activists say would have funded programs for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay man who represents portions of Orlando, on Tuesday described DeSantis as “callous.”

“The governor’s actions are a reminder that five years after the attack at Pulse nightclub, we have a lot of work to do to push back against homophobia and transphobia,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith. “The Orlando community is very supporting and accepting of the LGBTQ community, but when you see what’s happening at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, you realize that there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, associate director of Waves Ahead, an LGBTQ service organization in Puerto Rico, described the massacre’s impact in the U.S. commonwealth as “permanent in our collective memory.” Serrano also noted violence against trans Puerto Ricans remains rampant.

“We are now the epicenter of anti-trans violence in the U.S. and its territories,” said Serrano. “After five years, we still confront this hatred that doesn’t seem to stop. We will continue to fight until all of us are safe.”

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A plaque in Third Millennium Park in San Juan, Puerto Rico, pays tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Tony Lima, a long-time Florida-based activist who is currently CEO of Arianna’s Center, an organization that serves trans women of color in Florida, the South and Puerto Rico, helped organize vigils and blood drives in the days after the massacre.

“We knew how important it was to aid our family in Orlando in this immediate crisis,” Lima told the Blade on Monday. “Orlando and South Florida are intrinsically connected. We often share resources in nightlife, events, advocacy and a lot of the same people … so I think there was a natural synergy there.”

Lima, like Nadine Smith and Carlos Guillermo Smith, sharply criticized DeSantis for signing the anti-trans bill and for vetoing funds for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth. Lima also lamented the lack of progress on gun control.

A gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Lima told the Blade there have been two deadly mass shootings in South Florida in recent days.

“We have a huge problem when it comes to gun control in this country, and sadly five years later we haven’t made a whole lot of progress,” he said.

The Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., on July 31, 2020. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced sharp criticism from activists over his anti-LGBTQ policies. State lawmakers have also been criticized over their inaction on gun control. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Orlando’s support of LGBTQ rights part of ‘bigger call to action’

Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet is the senior specialist for inclusion, diversity and equity for the city of Orlando’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. He is also Mayor Buddy Dyer’s LGBTQ liaison.

Orlando City Hall on June 1 raised the Pride flag in commemoration of Pride month.

Sousa-Lazaballet noted the fountain in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando was the colors of the trans Pride flag in commemoration of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Orlando in 2019 became the first city in Florida to include National LGBT Chamber of Commerce-certified businesses in its municipal contracting and procurement programs.

“All of that is part of that bigger call to action, which is we want to honor the 49,” said Sousa-Lazaballet. “But we also want to with action by making the city an even more welcoming place for all.”

Sousa-Lazaballet, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Nadine Smith all told the Blade the way that Orlando, Central Florida, the country and the world responded to the massacre remains a source of pride.

“I think about how many messages there were in the aftermath that called on the worst instincts in people to be fearful of each other, to hate people as a group, to cower and to hide and I will never forget and have been changed by the Orlando community, how the nation and in fact globally people responded to the absolute opposite,” said Nadine Smith. “That is a light that I hold on to.”

Poma echoed Nadine Smith.

“We hope that our goal is to create that beacon of light that can come out of such darkness,” said Poma. “Darkness is a really dangerous place to get stuck in and so while we all wish what happened on June 12 never happened, it did and it’s now our moral and social responsibility to do something with that and that for me is creating light and change from what we all endured.”

A mural in Orlando, Fla., in the months after the Pulse nightclub massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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Senate passes bill designating Pulse as a national memorial

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry.”



Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers

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

Florida’s two U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced Senate Resolution 265 recognizing the fifth anniversary and honoring the 49 victims of the mass shooting attack on the Pulse Nightclub June 12, 2016.

Companion legislation authored by California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), and also Congressman Darren Soto’s (D-FL) House Resolution 49 that passed by voice vote on May 13 was also passed by the Senate.

“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.

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.

Florida’s Senator’s both released statements:

“The terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was a heinous act of violence and hatred against members of the LGBTQ community,” Marco Rubio said. “Forty-nine innocent lives were lost on that horrific day. As the fifth anniversary approaches, we must continue to honor the memory of those who were taken far too soon. And while work still remains to root out evil, I am inspired by Orlando’s continued resiliency, pride, and strength.”

Rick Scott, who was Florida’s governor at the time of the mass shooting said, “Nearly five years ago today, our state, nation, the City of Orlando, and Hispanic and LGBTQ communities were attacked, and 49 innocent and beautiful lives were lost. It was an unspeakable tragedy,” he said. 

“An evil act of terrorism designed to divide us as a nation and strike fear in our hearts and minds. But instead, we came together, and supported each other through heartbreak and darkness, to preserve and rebuild. Today, we still stand strong, together, to remember the 49 young lives lost that tragic day and honor their memory with passage of our resolution and our bill to establish the ‘National Pulse Memorial.’ It is my hope that this memorial will forever serve as a tribute to the victims and a reminder for us all to always stand for love and kindness over hate and evil in this world.”

Although the United States Senate marked the upcoming fifth anniversary by honoring the victims and shooting survivors with passage of the legislation which now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature, in Florida, Repuiblican Governor Ron De Santis has taken a different tack.

Last week, DeSantis vetoed funding for LGBTQ programs from the state budget including money earmarked for mental health programming to support survivors of the Pulse Massacre, to house homeless LGBTQ children, and for Orlando’s LGBTQ Community Center. 

Brandon Wolf (L) speaking with Florida Governor DeSantis (R) at PULSE Memorial 2019 (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

These actions following his signing a bill on June 1, the start of LGBTQ Pride month- 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.

“Let’s be clear about what this is: Governor DeSantis has declared war on Florida’s LGBTQ community.” said Wolf. “Before the 2019 Remembrance Ceremony, Governor DeSantis stood on hallowed ground, steps from where I escaped the building in 2016, and promised me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting. Today, almost two years later to date, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget.”

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