March 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pulse survivors to participate in D.C. gun control march
Pulse Nightclub, gun violence, gay news, Washington Blade

People visit the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2016. Survivors of the massacre are among those who are expected to take part in the “March For Our Lives” in D.C. on March 24, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre are among the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to take part in Saturday’s “March For Our Lives” for gun control in D.C.

Brandon Wolf, vice president of the Dru Project, a gun control advocacy group, and José Delgado, who also survived the massacre, are expected to march with a contingent from the Human Rights Campaign.

Wolf was with Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and his partner, Juan Guerrero, when a gunman opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016.

“Saturday’s march is a celebration of the power and impact of the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Wolf told the Blade on Wednesday. “It’s a memorial for 17 lives lost on Feb. 14, and it’s an awakening of the American electorate.”

“I am thrilled to be fighting alongside these teens to take our country back from the scourge of gun violence and the gun lobby,” he added.

Leinonen and Guerrero were among the 49 people who were killed in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly half of the massacre’s victims were LGBT people from Puerto Rico, which Hurricane Maria ravaged on Sept. 20, 2017.

A gunman less than two weeks later killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others when he opened fire during a country music festival in Las Vegas.

Leinonen’s mother, Christine Leinonen, founded the Dru Project in honor of her son. She is expected to lead the HRC contingent that will take part in the “March for Our Lives.”

HRC’s annual Lobby Day and Equality Conference will be taking place this week in D.C. Christine Leinonen, Wolf and Delgado are among those who are scheduled to speak at the events.

Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, one of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016. She is among those who will be taking part in the “March for Our Lives” in D.C. on March 24, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Pulse gunman’s widow’s trial underway in Fla.

The “March For Our Lives” will take place less than five weeks after a gunman killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

A student at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Md., on Tuesday shot two students before a school resource officer fatally wounded him.

The trial of Noor Salman — the widow of the gunman who opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub who allegedly helped her husband plan the massacre and misled officials who were investigating it — began last week in a federal courthouse in downtown Orlando that is roughly two miles from the nightclub. Students across the country on March 14 walked out of class to protest gun violence.

Ricardo Negron-Almodovar is the director of Proyecto Somos Orlando, a Hispanic Federation program that provides resources to LGBT Latinos in Central Florida. Negron-Almodovar, who is originally from Puerto Rico, survived the Pulse nightclub massacre when he and a woman ran out of the building.

Negron-Almodovar, who is also planning to take part in the “March For Our Lives,” on Tuesday told the Blade he “had hoped for the adoption of common sense policies and changes — both from the government and from people in general — that would make individuals less inclined toward acquiring and using the type of weapon used in the shooting.”

“Survivors, elected officials and other sectors came together asking, begging for these changes to be enacted,” he noted. “It didn’t happen.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state Attorney General Pam Bondi faced widespread criticism after the Pulse nightclub massacre over their reluctance to publicly acknowledge its LGBT victims.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sparked outrage among LGBT activists when he announced his re-election campaign less than two weeks after the massacre. The Florida Republican in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre has faced renewed criticism over his position on gun control.

Rick Scott, gay news, Washington Blade

Florida Gov. Rick Scott visits a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., on June 14, 2016. He and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi faced widespread criticism over their failure to publicly acknowledge the massacre’s LGBT victims. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Scott on March 9 signed into law a $400 million bill that, among other things, raises the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida from 18 to 21 and bans the sale of bump stocks. The law also creates a program that would allow teachers and other school employees to be armed.

Wolf and other survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre have met with Stoneman Douglas students who lobbied Florida lawmakers to pass a gun control bill. Equality Florida on March 10 honored Emma González — the openly bisexual president of Stoneman Douglas’ Gay-Straight Alliance who is among the organizers of the “March For Our Lives” — at its annual Miami gala.

The National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit against the law that Scott signed the day before Equality Florida honored González.

“After Vegas, Parkland and most recently Maryland, we have to force those in the position to make decisions to see that the majority of the people they serve want to feel safe and want change now,” Negron-Almodovar told the Blade. “This is why on Saturday we march.”

Wolf echoed this message.

“To be a survivor means to be a warrior,” he told the Blade. “It also means to be part of a family you never knew you had.”

Wolf added “survivors of tragedies like Pulse and Las Vegas are rallying around the Parkland students because we are family now.”

“Our mission will be to empower them, protect them and amplify their message,” he told the Blade.

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

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