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Suspect arrested in PULSE Memorial arson

Arson investigators and detectives from the Orlando Police Department did not indicate that the act was a hate crime

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PULSE Memorial, Orlando, Florida (Photo Courtesy of onePULSE Foundation)

ORLANDO – Investigators with the Orlando Fire Department’s arson investigations unit announced this week that a suspect was arrested who was seen on surveillance video setting fire to parts of the memorial to the 49 victims of the June 12, 2016 massacre at the former nightclub’s location this past October.

The suspect was identified as 64-year-old Mark Anthony Henson and according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department website, he is facing one charge of felony criminal mischief.

In its Facebook page two weeks ago the onePULSE Foundation wrote; “On October 12 around 8:30 p.m. EST, an individual damaged our offering wall. Three Angel banners were burned along with other items within the affected area. If you know this individual (watch from minute 2:30), please call the OPD information line at 407-246-2470 and reference case number 2021-003-693-96.

Arson investigators and detectives from the Orlando Police Department did not indicate that the act was a hate crime nor did they release further information that detailed how they developed Henson as the primary suspect.

Mark Henson mugshot (Screenshot via WFTV ABC9 Orlando, Florida)

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Florida

“Don’t Say Gay” student leader says school stopping run for student leadership

Jack Petocz organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill & annoyed administrators suspended him

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Jack Petocz (Center) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government earlier this Spring (Courtesy of Jack Petocz/Facebook)

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.

On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.

“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”

The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on Change.org to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Later on during the day Driggers posted to the Change.org petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.

“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.

Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.

On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.

In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:

“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”

On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.

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Florida man allegedly attacked by boyfriend’s family for turning son gay

The family discovered that the younger son, Oleh Makarenko, 21, was in a nine-month same-sex relationship with the victim

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21-year-old suspect Oleh (Alex) Makarenko/WPLG ABC 10 News Ft. Lauderdale (Booking Photo: Broward County Sheriff's Department)

In criminal court documents filed in Broward County Circuit Court this week, state prosecutors and the Broward County Sheriff Department investigators say that hate crime charges levied against a Ukrainian immigrant family of four are because they beat a 31-year-old victim in Pompano Beach on or about August 6, 2021, solely because the victim is gay.

He has been permanently blinded and sustained other serious injuries as a result of the incident. He has invoked Marsy’s Law rights, and is declining to be named publicly.

However, prosecutors say the family discovered that the younger son, Oleh Makarenko, 21, was in a nine-month same-sex relationship with the victim. As a result, Makarenko, who is also known as Alex, was being forced to marry a woman by his mother. According to court documents, the trio brandished a ‘firearm or other deadly weapon’ during the attack and all four of the suspects continued holding him and began punching, kicking, and hitting him all over his face and body.”

WSVN-TV 7 News in Miami reported Wednesday:

According to the arrest documents, 19-year-old Oleh Makarenko and the victim had been romantically involved for about nine months, but the victim said Oleh told him his father was not accepting him as gay.

After a two-week break in the relationship. on Aug. 6, the victim said he remotely opened his community’s gate believing it was a friend when it was actually the Makarenko family. The victim went outside but quickly went back into his apartment.

According to the arrest report, “… the suspects began pushing the door open in an attempt to force their way inside. Moments later, the suspects succeeded in force the door open … suspects then grabbed (the victim) as he began attempting to defend himself.”

The report goes on to state, “All four suspects continued holding (the victim) and began punching, kicking and hitting all over his face, head and body.”

“While this was occurring, Oleh and his mother walked into the apartment and watched as the suspects continued to beat (the victim) … (the victim) stated to Oleh’s mother, ‘Unfortunately your son’s gay.’ And (the victim) asked Oleh, ‘Is this what you wanted?’ to which Oleh replied ‘no’ … One of them grabbed an unknown object and struck him in the face. (The Victim) stated after falling to the floor, he pretended to be dead,” said the arrest report.

Oleh, 21, Yevhen, 44, Inna, 45, & Vladyslav, 26, Makarenko

“There’s no indication that anything was said or done to show that they had specific intent to kill,” said public defender Katherine Lopez. “It seems like, based on my reading, that their probable cause for beating him cause of a relationship with a family member of theirs.”

Charged with attempted first-degree murder, battery during the burglary of a dwelling, and kidnapping are Inna Makarenko, 45, Yevhen Makarenko 44, Oleh Makarenko, 21, and Vladyslav Makarenko, 26, who was transferred from Alabama to the Broward County jail system on Monday.

All four are jailed without bond and the investigation by the Broward Sheriff’s Office is continuing.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis moves to eliminate Disney’s status in special session

“Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies without thoughts of the ramifications”

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During a press conference Tuesday, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he had expanded the special session of the state legislature, which was meeting next week to rework and approve congressional re-districting maps, to include eliminating the 1967 law that allows the Walt Disney World Resort property to operate as a self-governing body.

“I am announcing today that we are expanding the call of what they are going to be considering this week,’’ DeSantis said at a news conference in The Villages, a massive master planned retirement community  that sprawls over Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties located approximately 45 miles northwest of Orlando.

“Yes, they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968 — and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for the land of the Walt Disney World Resort. It includes 39.06 sq mi within the outer limits of Orange and Osceola counties and acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

DeSantis and the media conglomerate locked horns over the Disney Company’s public denouncement of  H.B. 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” colloquially known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, that DeSantis signed into law last month.

A spokesperson for the Disney Company had issued a statement condemning the legislation.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

The governor in response to Disney told reporters:

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest, but two, I think that crossed the line.”

Taking aim at Disney corporate leadership including its CEO Bob Chapek he added:

“This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of Florida, it is not based on the demands of California corporate executives,” he continued. “They do not run this state, they do not control this state.”

The governor’s call to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District at the beginning of this month was amplified by state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-Fort Myers, a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman, who is licensed to practice law in Florida and Texas, is opposed to abortion and also introduced legislation targeting what he terms “cancel culture” on the campuses of universities and colleges in the state, HB 233.

In the wake of the governor’s announcement Tuesday, a Republican politician and former gambling industry executive from Brevard County, state Rep. Randy Fine tweeted:

“Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them. @GovDeSantis just expanded the Special Session so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50 yr-old special statute that makes Disney to exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.”

A legislative source speaking on background told the Blade Tuesday that its doubtful that DeSantis and his allies realize the massive burden that will be thrust onto the governments of Orange and Osceola counties. “Consider things such as zoning, sewage, taxation, waste removal, and the loss of money provided by Reedy Creek/Disney for fire-police, and other critical key governmental elements that the company has established in contracts,” the source noted.

“The obvious consideration is that Ron DeSantis and the Republicans have openly declared war on the state’s LGBTQ minority and allies without thoughts of the ramifications- economic alone, and the long term damages created to the state and all Floridians as a result,” the source added.

According to historical documents from the Reedy Creek Improvement District, then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk signed the RCID Act into law in May 1967, creating two municipalities: Bay Lake and Reedy Creek, which was later renamed Lake Buena Vista. The location, nestled between Orange and Osceola counties, would later become the site where Walt Disney World was built.

The RCID Charter created a 25,000-acre of land as a special taxing district. At the time, it was considered remote and uninhabitable, but now is the site of one of the busiest theme parks in the United States.

To make Disney’s plan happen, the area had to get special privileges from the state of Florida to essentially run itself.

“In 1967, the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government,” RCID says on its website.

DeSantis announces expanded special session targeting Walt Disney World property:

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