On Sunday, June 12, 2016, many Floridians woke up to news that nearly 50 nightclub attendees in Orlando had been shot and killed at the hand of a deranged gunman who was reportedly targeting them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For the LGBT community and its allies, the sudden loss of so many friends and loved ones was a reminder that they could still be targets for who they are, even in places that are supposed serve as shelters from (still) all-too-common bigotry and intolerance.
Monday marks the one-year anniversary of that devastating day, and advocates are attending rallies across the country, including in the Tampa Bay area, where a commemorative event is slated for Monday evening in Ybor City. Also on Monday, Equality Florida director Nadine Smith is headlining a discussion of LGBT rights in Gulfport, where Pulse will likely be on everyone's minds.
“One year after this horrific event only confirms my words following last year’s tragedy, ‘Orlando is a strong and resilient community’ and has joined together to overcome this immeasurable loss,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a prepared statement. “Tampa stands united with Orlando and will remain steadfast partners to combat hate of any sort. Love will always be more powerful than hate.”
Buckhorn also released a video showing his support on social media and donated blood on Monday morning.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, meanwhile, ordered flags across the state to be flown at half staff Monday as well as a moment of silence at 9 a.m., though in a tweet he referred to the massacre as a terrorist attack rather than a hate crime.
In the past year, even as the overwhelming majority of Americans have shown support for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, they still face ostracization and even violence simply for being who they are, and many have been the target of hate crimes. There is speculation that the election of Donald Trump has emboldened haters. In St. Petersburg's high-end Old Northeast neighborhood, a resident has been displaying signs with bigoted messages, including homophobic ones, in his front yard.
Some activists say the Pulse anniversary should also serve as a moment for Americans to reflect on gun culture.
“It was one year ago that we heard the tragic and unbelievable news: 49 people were murdered in a violent, hate-filled, mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. Almost exactly a year earlier, parishioners were targeted at a historic African-American Church in Charleston. In the days that followed, we heard stories of courage, bravery and resolve. But mostly, there was unspeakable pain. Pain that will never fully go away," said former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who herself was a victim of a mass shooting in her Arizona district. “As a nation, we can and must do better. It’s time for us to come together, heal our nation’s divisions and restore the bonds that tie all of us together. And it’s time for our nation’s leaders in Washington to come together, put politics and partisanship aside, and take responsible steps to prevent the next hate-filled tragedy."