June 12, 2020 at 9:34 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Activists, Orlando officials mark four years since Pulse nightclub massacre
The makeshift memorial at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on May 31, 2020 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

“Four years have now passed, but our community’s commitment to honoring the 49 angels and supporting the survivors, families of the victims and first responders remains strong,” tweeted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who was in office on June 12, 2016, when the massacre took place.

The onePULSE Foundation, a group founded by Pulse owner Barbara Poma that is planning to build a permanent memorial, on Friday will hold a virtual ceremony to honor the massacre’s victims. The coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers not to hold an in-person commemoration this year.

“We are grateful for the tremendous support of the community and would love nothing more than to have our community members join us in remembering our 49 Angels, and honoring our survivors and first responders, but we must prioritize the health and safety of the public, the Pulse community, and our employees,” said Poma in a statement. “We ask the community to join together again, in a different way this year, as a symbol of strength and solidarity in the face of tragedy, forever proving: We will not let hate win.”

Nearly half of the massacre’s victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has ordered flags in her city to be lowered to half-mast. Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, on Friday visited a memorial in a San Juan park that honors the victims.

“Love always wins — always,” said Serrano in a tweet that shows him visiting the memorial.

An interim memorial has opened at the nightclub, which is less than two miles from downtown Orlando.

Scott Bowman of the onePulse Foundation on Thursday said $19 million has been raised for the permanent memorial that will have three components: The National Pulse Memorial, the Museum and Education Center and the Orlando Health Survivors Walk. Bowman told the Washington Blade the Orlando Health Survivors Walk’s groundbreaking will take place next April.

The Orlando Sentinel on Friday reported U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who represents portions of Orlando, has introduced a bill that would designate Pulse as a national memorial. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis designated Friday as “Pulse Remembrance Day” and ordered flags in the state lowered to half-staff.

Pulse nightclub, Orlando, gay news, Washington Blade
A large American flag behind the picture of a gay couple who died inside the Pulse nightclub at memorial in downtown Orlando, Fla., that grew in size in the days after the massacre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and it renewed calls for gun control in this country.

Equality Florida — along with the Human Rights Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Giffords Law Center — on Friday issued a report that documents gun violence’s impact on LGBTQ people. The report, among other things, notes nearly 80 percent of Black transgender women who have been killed since 2013 were shot to death.

“Gun safety is an LGBTQ issue, plain and simple,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.

This year’s commemorations of the massacre are taking place amid continued protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. President Trump is also running for re-election.

Equality Florida has announced it plans to target 500,000 “pro-equality voters in the state of Florida with the goal of ensuring they have updated registrations, resources to educate themselves on where candidates stand on equality, and sign up to receive their ballots by mail.”

“When we set out on this journey four years ago, Equality Florida promised to do the work of uprooting hate and violence,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders in a press release. “Dismantling systems of racism and homophobia requires that pro-equality voters make our voices heard and ensure our votes shape who represents us and what policies they champion.”

“We live in the most important political real estate in the country and pro-equality voters are positioned to make the difference between a state that will be won or lost by 100,000 votes,” he added. “In 2020 we’re going to leave it all on the field.” 

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Pérez and Earl Fowlkes, who chairs the DNC’s LGBTQ Caucus, on Friday issued a statement that acknowledged the massacre’s fourth anniversary.

Trump in the days after the massacre reiterated his calls that the U.S. should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Pérez and Fowlkes in their statement said Trump “took advantage of the tragedy at Pulse to attack immigrants and Muslims, as he has continued to throughout his presidency.”

“Instead of advocating for commonsense gun reform or equal rights, he sought to divide Americans during a crisis — as he has during today’s twin public health crises of coronavirus and systemic racism,” added Pérez and Fowlkes. “Throughout his presidency, Trump has uprooted LGBTQ+ rights, attacked our access to health care, separated families, and fanned the flames of bigotry and hate. We need Joe Biden as president to unite Americans and continue our long march toward a more equal country.”

Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere in a statement to the Blade acknowledged the massacre’s anniversary.

“The horrible attack on the LGBT community at the Pulse nightclub four years ago is just one of many reasons why President Trump has made it a top priority to root out radical Islamic extremists wherever they hide,” said Deere. “As the president has said, we will never forget the 49 individuals who were senselessly murdered that night.” 

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

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