An emotional, rain-soaked rally on the eve of the Pulse anniversary Monday evening was mixed with anguish and raw anger over the lack of progress on gun reform and gay rights in Florida and the sheer number of mass shootings that have happened since.
“Six hundred and twelve days,” said Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse shootingand organizer of the Pulse Rally to Honor Them with Action at Orlando City Hall. “That’s how long it took for Pulse headlines to become Parkland headlines. … That’s how long it took for 49 lives lost to become 17 more. And in those 612 days, nothing changed.”
Pulse survivors were joined on the steps of City Hall by survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and about 200 rallygoers, several of whom stretched a rainbow ribbon in front of the podium reading “Gays against guns.”
Their message, from survivors and politicians alike, was that many in the LGBT and Hispanic communities, as well as young people newly able to register, would vote against any candidate who opposed gun-control measures and protections for LGBT people in the workplace.
“Two years ago, I was washing my hands in a bathroom sink when I heard an assault rifle fire 45 rounds in one minute,” Wolf said. “I’ll never forget the smell of blood and smoke burning in the inside of my nose. It wasn’t until after that I learned that 13 of those rounds killed my best friends. But the real crime here is that my story isn’t unique anymore.”
Wolf talked about how survivors asked state leaders for “common0sense gun reforms,” LGBT protections and increased mental health funding, but to no avail.
“[Gov.] Rick Scott was so busy trying to appease his gun lobby donors, he wouldn’t even wear a damn ribbon,” Wolf said, joining state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, in criticizing Scott for never having worn a rainbow Pulse ribbon in two years — while often wearing a red Marjory Stoneman Douglas ribbon.
Maria Wright, the mother of Pulse victim Jerry Wright of Windermere, recalled how two years earlier she was out at dinner with friends, talking about how much her son loved his parents.
“Just a few hours later, that pride was smashed and destroyed by hate and bullets,” Wright said. “My beloved son and 48 others … were ripped from our lives. But it is becoming so commonplace, we’re beginning to accept it as normal. It is not normal for our children to die while they sit at school, eat at a restaurant, pray in church, listen to music at a concert or dance in a club.”
“We deserve better,” Wright said. “Our children deserve better. And we must let our leaders know that we expect better. … We mustn’t just lift our voice. We must roar.”
Parkland survivor Aly Sheehy talked of how “not even four months ago, I found myself on the floor huddled with my classmates, not knowing if we were going to die. We sat in silence texting our parents, ‘I love you,’ because we feared we might not get to say that to their face again. … That day feels like it was a year ago, but at the same time it feels like it was yesterday.”
Sheehy continued, “I am tired of meaningless tweets and empty words of promise by our politicians. I fight because I am tired of being told I am too young to understand. … I am now 18, and come November I am going to fight for the future that our friends don’t have anymore. I am going to fight for the people who don’t have a future anymore. To the politicians, I hope you hear our screams now because they’re only growing louder.”
Gina Duncan, a transgender woman, said more than half of the LGBT people killed in the U.S. in 2017 were transgender. Charlotte “ChaCha” Davis talked about gun violence in the African-American community and challenged rallygoers to bring “someone who doesn’t look like you” to their next rally.
“Time and time and time again, we had thoughts and prayers with a heaping side of inaction,” Wolf said. “I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired and ready for some goddamned action.”