July 13, 2016 at 12:33 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Orlando marks 1-month anniversary of Pulse nightclub massacre

A woman with a picture of her friend who died inside the Pulse nightclub attends a memorial in Orlando, Fla., on June 13, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A woman with a picture of her friend who died inside the Pulse nightclub attends a memorial in Orlando, Fla., on June 13, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Tuesday marks a month since a gunman killed 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer unveiled plans for a permanent memorial to the victims that will be built at Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is a few blocks north of the Pulse nightclub in which the massacre took place. The 49 wooden crosses that had been placed outside the hospital were also brought to the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority honored the massacre victims by illuminating its Lake Underhill Bridge in rainbow colors at 2:02 a.m., the exact moment when the gunman opened fire inside the nightclub.

The Pulse nightclub has not reopened, but people continue to place flowers and other objects outside the fence that currently surrounds it.

“I knew two of the 49 people who died in the club that morning,” Axel Rodríguez, an Orlando resident who was born in Puerto Rico, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “There is not a day that I don’t think about them and their families. It is very sad and it will take time for me to be back to normal.”

Rodríguez told the Blade that he remains unable to drive past the Pulse nightclub or visit the memorial outside of it, even though he lives a couple of blocks away from it.

Billy Manes, editor of Watermark, an LGBT newspaper that covers Orlando and surrounding areas of central Florida, also lives a couple of blocks away from the Pulse nightclub.

Helicopters were still flying above his home when he spoke to the Blade a few hours after the massacre took place. He said on Tuesday that he recently visited what he described as “the site of the crime” for the first time.

“It was impossible not to cry,” Manes told the Blade, noting he once worked inside the building in which the Pulse nightclub is located. “Seeing all the pictures that are prominently displayed in people’s makeshift memorials, it just brings it home.”

Manes said that Barbara Poma, co-owner of the Pulse nightclub, told him on Monday that she visits the site everyday because it is “her only source of solace.”

“It’s still rough waters,” Manes told the Blade.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican advocacy group, has previously noted that 23 of the 49 victims were LGBT Puerto Ricans.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, on June 26 officially dedicated the island’s first LGBT-specific monument that contains a plaque with the names of those who died inside the Pulse nightclub. The LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico and Temptation, a gay club in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood, have also erected makeshift memorials to the victims.

“This has been the most difficult month for the Puerto Rican LGBT community,” Serrano told the Blade on Tuesday from San Juan. “We still mourn the 23 of us that are no longer here.”

Nearly $18 million raised for victims’ families, survivors

Funds that Equality Florida and the city of Orlando created in the wake of the massacre to help the victims’ families and survivors have raised nearly $18 million.

Orlando officials have said that claims “will be reviewed and payments distributed” by October 1. Cecilia La Luz, founder and executive director of the LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico, told the Blade last week during an interview in San Juan that she remains concerned about the amount of time the families of the victims will have to wait in order to receive money from the funds.

Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith acknowledged to the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that the process to distribute the money has not begun.

She said she has personally delivered funds to victims’ family members for expedited passports and survivors of the massacre before they have been discharged from the hospital. Smith told the Blade that law enforcement agencies and hospitals have distributed some “short term emergency funds.”

The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and other local organizations continue to provide financial support, counseling and other services to the families of the massacre victims and those who survived it. Smith told the Blade that ensuring the they receive money from the funds in a timely manner remains a top priority.

“It has felt like an ongoing, unfolding tragedy, not something that happened a month ago,” she said.

Rodríguez said Orlando’s LGBT and Latino communities “are coping with the pain” by organizing vigils, concerts, benefits and other events together. He also told the Blade that “Orlando Strong” signs are in windows throughout the city.

“Rainbow flags with ‘Orlando United’ on them are all over my area,” he said.

Protesters arrested inside Marco Rubio’s office

The massacre sparked renewed calls for gun control in the U.S.

The Human Rights Campaign and dozens of other LGBT advocacy organizations have formally pledged to support gun control efforts in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

The U.S. Senate rejected four gun control measures in a vote that took place eight days after the massacre.

Police on Monday arrested an Equality Florida staffer and nine other gun control supporters who staged a sit-in in the lobby of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)’s office in downtown Orlando, which is less than two miles from the Pulse nightclub. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Georgia Congressman John Lewis and other House Democrats on Tuesday held pictures of the victims on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as they criticized their Republican colleagues for not allowing a vote on the issue.

“We must take on the gun culture and the fear, paranoia and violence it breeds,” wrote Smith in an op-ed that NBC News published on its website on Tuesday.

“It is immoral to simply hope the next mass shooting passes our house and hits our neighbors instead,” she added. “There is evidence that an emerging majority in America is ready to take on this challenge.”

Rodríguez also echoed the calls for gun control in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

“Our voices need to be heard,” he told the Blade. “We need to go to the streets and ask for better ways to deal with the issue. This issue is not affecting one demographic affects everyone of us.”

‘There’s a lot that has to be spoken about’

The massacre also took place against the backdrop of increased anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting reiterated is call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and to suspend immigration from areas “when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.” The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination.

“There’s a sense that some portion of regular life is resuming,” Smith told the Blade, referring to the month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. “The sit-in at Marco Rubio’s office is also an indicator that people aren’t willing to let it go back.”

President Obama on Tuesday spoke at a memorial service for the five Dallas police officers who were killed on July 7. An Army veteran shot them during a protest against the killing of two black men — Alton Sterling and Philando Castle — earlier in the week by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn.

“There’s a lot that has to be spoken about at this point,” Manes told the Blade on Tuesday.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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