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Gay couples lobby Congress on immigration reform

‘We live in a very uncertain and scary place’

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Immigration Equality, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade
Shirley Tan, Jay Mercado, gay news, Washington Blade, immigration equality

Shirley Tan, Jay Mercado and children Jorienne and Jashley Mercado. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

For Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, the debate on comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is a make-or-break moment that will determine whether their family can remain together in the United States.

The California couple, among the estimated 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples living in the United States, paid a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday along with other couples for a lobby day bearing a singular message: include the Uniting American Families Act as part of larger immigration reform.

Tan, a 47-year-old Philippines native who was denied asylum in 2009 and has since been threatened with deportation, said the inclusion of UAFA would be incredibly meaningful for her San Francisco-based family — as well as for other bi-national couples.

“My partner Jay, for 27 years, is faced with the problem of whether she has to quit her job and take everybody back to the Philippines,” Tan said. “She has an ailing mother who is on dialysis treatment right now, and I’m the one taking care of her, so don’t know if we have to put her in the home, and what about the kids? The Philippines is a foreign country to them.”

About 50 gay, bi-national couples from 26 states came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as part of a lobby day effort organized by the LGBT group Immigration Equality.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, called the lobbying by the couples “really a huge asset” in ensuring protections for same-sex couples are included as part of immigration reform.

“These families today are here to look their members of Congress [in the eye], especially look their senators in the eye, one more time and tell them how much this matters to LGBT families,” Tiven said. “Everyone here knows that they’re representing not only themselves, not only their state, but they’re representing all the LGBT immigrants around the country, and around the world, that are waiting for change.”

Bi-national same-sex couples, where one individual is a foreign national and another is a U.S. citizen, are threatened with separation under current immigration code once the foreign national in the relationship falls out of legal status.

Straight Americans can sponsor their partners for residency in the United States, but that option isn’t available to gay Americans because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because they can’t marry in many places within the country. UAFA would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency.

The moment for these bi-national same-sex couples will come soon. LGBT advocates are expecting an amendment along the lines of UAFA, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States, to come up when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was produced by the “Gang of Eight.”

On Wednesday, the couples met with a variety of lawmakers from across the country. On the agenda for Tan and Mercada was a meeting with staffers for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). A member of the committee, Feinstein has yet to make a public statement on whether she’ll support UAFA as part of immigration reform.

Mercado, 52, said the meeting went well, but the staffer for the California senator wouldn’t make promises about how she’d vote if a UAFA amendment came before the committee.

“She doesn’t know the exact answer from the senator, but she’s positive that she will be doing the right thing,” Tan said. “They saw a lot of the families that are affected, and most of the families that are affected by, the most bi-national couples, are in California. They say it’s about 10,000 couples in California alone.”

Feinstein’s office is staying quiet about whether she will support UAFA. Asked by the Washington Blade whether she’ll vote in favor of the legislation as an amendment to comprehensive immigration reform, Brian Weiss, a Feinstein spokesperson, said on Wednesday, “Sen. Feinstein is taking a look at the legislation. No announcement at this time.”

The California senator’s silence on UAFA is striking because the former San Francisco mayor is known for being a strong supporter for LGBT rights. She’s been the lead sponsor of legislation aimed at repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Feinstein has also introduced a “private bill” limited to Tan and Mercado to keep them together in the United States.

The couple also met with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), another UAFA co-sponsor, who gave her personal assurances that she’d vote in favor of a UAFA amendment as part of immigration reform once the legislation comes over to the House.

Tan and Mercado have made their case on Capitol Hill before. In 2009, Tan testified before the Senate on the importance of passing UAFA. Her testimony at the time, in which she recalled her arrest in 2009 when immigration officials took her from her home, was considered moving. It inspired tears from her children, to whom Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said their mother was a brave woman.

Jorienne and Jashley Mercado — now 16 — accompanied their parents for the lobby day on Capitol Hill to help make the case for UAFA and had an audience with Leahy himself, the sponsor of UAFA in the Senate, four years after that hearing.

“We thanked him for supporting our families and being a champion for our families, that he’s helping out all of us,” Jashley said. “He said, ‘I’m glad that I’m helping you guys because you guys are really an inspiration.'”

Jorienne said passage of UAFA as part of immigration reform would offer his family assurances that his mother would be able to stay in the country without fear of deportation.

“It would mean a tremendous amount to our family because our mom is such an integral part of our family,” Jorienne said. “If we don’t have her here with us, then we’re not a family.”

Despite words from supporters like Leahy, it’s not clear UAFA will ultimately be included in immigration reform. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Democrats are “treading carefully” because they’re wary of adding another issue to immigration reform that has already been attacked by conservatives like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Still, Tiven maintained inclusion of same-sex couples in the larger vehicle would motivate the LGBT community to act.

“The LGBT community is a tremendous asset to pushing comprehensive immigration reform forward to the finish line,” Tiven said. “The LGBT community has proven over and over again — at the state level, at the federal level — we know how to get things done. We know how to pass legislation and we are bringing our power to LGBT-inclusive immigration reform.”

‘We still live in a very uncertain and scary place’

Also among the couples on Capitol Hill was Sam Conlon and Gary Wanderlingh, who reside in New Fairfield, Conn. Wanderlingh is seeking the opportunity to sponsor Conlon, a British national, for residency in the United States. Married in Connecticut in 2011, the couple has twice filed spousal petitions that were both denied on March 29.

While relocating to the United Kingdom is an option for the couple, Wanderlingh, 43, said he doesn’t want to leave New Fairfield because he’s taught in the same school district for 18 years. He’d lose his pension and would have to renew his teacher certification if he moved overseas.

“The most compelling thing is my elderly mother, where unfortunately my father passed away on what would have been our wedding day, our scheduled wedding day,” Wanderlingh said. “I made a promise to him that I would take care of mom, though now I’m being faced with the choice of breaking the promise that I made to Sam to be together for the rest of our lives.”

Upon their visit to Capitol Hill, the couple visited the office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who’s already a UAFA co-sponsor. Conlon said they also spoke with staffers for Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), and while they were supportive, received no commitments. Neither Murphy’s office nor Larson responded to the Blade’s request for comment on UAFA.

Conlon, 36, said he’s glad there’s an opportunity to have immigration reform passed that would help his family.

“We’re glad to see that there is a buzz around this,” Conlon said. “It’s very encouraging to see the winds changing in our direction in the last few months. But there’s never any guarantees, until it’s passed, until we know we have rights, we still live in a very uncertain and scary place.”

There could be another option for bi-national same-sex couples who are married. If the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling that strikes down Section 3 of DOMA, gay Americans could begin sponsoring their same-sex spouses for residency within the country. However, it’s not certain the court will strike down DOMA and other issues could arise in which UAFA would be needed.

Ben Story, Brandon Perlberg, gay news, Washington Blade, immigration equality

Ben Story and Brandon Perlberg (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Brandon Perlberg, 35, and Benn Storey, 31, who are living in exile in London after Perlberg, a U.S. citizen, had lived in New York City for 15 years and Storey, a British national, lived there for seven years. Although they aren’t married, they’re engaged and planning a London wedding.

Perlberg, an attorney, explained he chose to live in exile with Storey, who couldn’t remain in the United States after his work visa expired and he couldn’t get a green card through his employer.

“Because I can’t sponsor him for a green card, it became clear that Benn was going to have to move to the U.K., and that meant that I had to make a decision over whether I was to live my life in the country, or move to England with the person that I love,” Perlberg said. “I chose the latter. We moved to the U.K. in 2012. UAFA is the bridge; UAFA is the instrument that gives us the ability to return to the United States.”

The couple met with staffers for lawmakers from New York — Reps. Hakeen Jeffries (D) and Carolyn Maloney (D) — and had plans to meet with staffers for Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsor UAFA.

“When you meet with a staffer, they can’t give you a firm position,” Perlberg said. “But I think that the meetings were generally positive. People seemed to understand our position, and as well, they seem to get that it’s not just about the couple, it’s about the couple’s family, it’s about the couple’s employers, it’s about the people that the couple relates to.”

Not every individual lobbied members of Congress with their significant other. Michael Upton, a gay 49-year-old South Hero, Vt., resident, came to Capitol Hill by himself because his partner of more than five years, a Brazilian national, is unable to come into the United States.

“It’s awful,” Upton said. “We’ve never been able to be together. He’s never met my family. My dad actually recently passed away. We petitioned for humanitarian parole so he could be there in Vermont, so we would have to choose. It was denied. I was in Brazil when my father died, so I couldn’t be with my family.”

Because the two live apart in different countries, Upton said he had to give up his job at the Veteran’s Administration caring for troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan to become a federal contractor so he could he have more flexibility to travel to see his partner.

Upton said he met on Capitol Hill with Leahy, and said the senator told him he’d do everything he could to ensure immigration reform is amended to include UAFA. Upton said he also met with staffers for gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), who also expressed support.

For Upton, passage of UAFA as part of immigration reform is the last hope for him and his partner to stay together in the United States. While he’s hopeful, he also realizes there’s no guarantee.

“This is the difference between whether or not we can continue,” said Upton as his eyes welled with tears. “I’m hopeful, but I’ve been hopeful about a number of opportunities for John to come and they’ve fallen flat. My state has the champion for this issue, and I think he’s completely committed, and he’s one of the most powerful men in the Senate, so if anybody can do it, he can.”

Immigration Equality, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Bi-national same-sex couples lobby Congress to include UAFA as part of immigration reform. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed quotes to Sam Conlon and Gary Wanderlingh. Additionally, the article incorrectly suggested UAFA could be an alternative for gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States after DOMA is struck down if their relationship isn’t a legal marriage. However, UAFA won’t be operative for these couples after DOMA is gone because Section 2, Part D of UAFA states the law doesn’t apply to couples who are able to enter into “a marriage cognizable under the Act,” which would be all bi-national couples in a post-DOMA world. The Blade regrets the errors.

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project, explained further the situation for bi-national couples in a post-DOMA world.

“After Section 3 of DOMA is struck down, many unmarried lesbian and gay binational couples will marry in the states or countries where marriage is legal for same-sex couples,” Soloway said. “Those couples already living in ‘marriage equality’ states will be able to marry where they live, while other couples will travel out of state to marry as gay and lesbian couples do every day in this country. Thousands of bi-national couples who are separated or exiled abroad and who are not married, may be eligible to petition for fiance visas so that the foreign partner can come to the United States to marry and to apply for a green card based on that marriage. Because immigration law is so complicated and so much is at stake in these cases, all binational couples are strongly advised not to take any action after the Supreme Court rules on DOMA without first seeking legal counsel. “

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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

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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.

Research: 

  • 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

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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.”

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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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