“This was an act of terrorism but it was also an act of hate,” he told reporters after he and Vice President Biden placed bouquets at a makeshift memorial in downtown Orlando that pays tribute to the 49 people who died inside Pulse Nightclub on June 12. “This was an attack on the LGBT community. Americans were targeted because we’re a country that has learned to welcome everyone, no matter who you are or who you love. And hatred towards people because of sexual orientation, regardless of where it comes from, is a betrayal of what’s best in us.”
Obama and Biden visited the memorial after they met with the families of the victims for about two hours at a nearby arena in which the Orlando Magic play. The president and the vice president also met with survivors and Pulse Nightclub’s owners and staffers who were working when the gunman opened fire.
“For so many people here who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, the Pulse Nightclub has always been a safe haven, a place to sing and dance, and most importantly, to be who you truly are,” said Obama.
The president noted that many of the victims were from Puerto Rico.
“Sunday morning, that sanctuary was violated in the worst way imaginable,” said Obama.
Obama’s remarks appeared to be directed towards Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has come under fire from activists and their supporters for not specifically mentioning the LGBT community in his public remarks about the massacre.
Scott described the massacre as “an attack against the gays” in an exclusive statement he gave to the Washington Blade on Tuesday after he visited the same memorial from which Obama and Biden spoke. CNN’s Anderson Cooper earlier this week directly challenged state Attorney General Pam Bondi over her opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues in Florida.
“The fact that they can’t even say…LGBT is incredibly offensive,” Tim Evanicki, entertainment manager at Parliament House, a gay hotel and entertainment complex near downtown Orlando, told the Blade on Tuesday.
President again calls for gun control
Obama spoke at the memorial three days after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reiterated his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and suspend immigration from areas “when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.”
The president earlier this week sharply denounced Trump over his comments. The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday organized a protest against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee as he arrived at a D.C. law firm to give a deposition.
“You can’t make up the world into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and denigrate and express hatred towards groups because of the color of their skin, or their faith or their sexual orientation and not feed something very dangerous in this world,” said Obama as he spoke at the memorial.
“So if there was ever a moment for all of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and everybody has dignity, now is the time,” he added. “It’s a good time for all of us to reflect on how we treat each other, and to insist on respect and equality for every human being.”
Obama in his remarks also reiterated his calls for gun control.
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and parents, and they asked, why does this keep happening?” said Obama. “They pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage.”
Obama traveled to Orlando hours after Democrats ended a 15-hour filibuster to try to block gun sales to those on the federal terrorism watch list. The president on Thursday said he welcomes the news that the Senate could vote on the issue and on another proposed amendment to a spending bill that would require background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and online as early as Monday.
“I truly hope that senators rise to the moment and do the right thing,” said Obama. “I hope that senators who voted no on background checks after Newtown have a change of heart. And then I hope the House does the right thing, and helps end the plague of violence that these weapons of war inflict on so many young lives.”