June 12, 2016 -- a night that the LGBT community will never forget, a night that the lives of 49 people partying at Pulse nightclub in Orlando were ended.
The community sprung into action, creating GoFundMe pages to raise money for the victims’ families and survivors of the shooting, and others got to work on legislation. This included the League of Women Voters of Florida, which had been active in gun control activism.
Patti Brigham, the first vice president of the league, became the co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Within days, 40 groups in Florida joined the coalition and today there are more than 125 nonpartisan groups listed as members. A handful of LGBT organizations have signed up as partners including Key West Business Guild, The Pride Center, Pridelines, and SunServe.
“You never think it’s going to happen in your own hometown, even though you know it can. So when it did, I think just like many people, I was in a state of shock and devastated,” Brigham said. “When the Pulse shooting occurred, we knew it was time to widen what we were doing and start going on the offensive.”
Equality Florida is another LGBT group to join the coalition in a stance against gun violence.
“Even before the police reports arrive, even before a suspect is apprehended, when these mass shootings — these tragedies — happen, almost inevitably it is an angry young man of whatever ideology, whatever religious stripe with access to weapons of mass slaughter,” said Nadine Smith, the co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida.
“We understand that hate violence disproportionately impacts the LGBT community and that access to rational gun laws are a part of addressing the carnage that has become far too normalized.”
According to Mass Shooting Tracker, which uses crowd-sourced information, Florida had the most mass shootings in the country last year, with 92 killed and 194 wounded. This year, the Sunshine State is on track to lead the charts again.
“Mass shooting” was defined as four or more gunshot victims in a single incident.
Kicking off 2017, five people were killed by a shooter at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Ten days later eight were wounded at a Martin Luther King Day event in Miami.
The coalition does not want to allow college students to be able to bring guns on campus because of the high suicide rates among the age group and students are “often away from home for the first time experiencing drugs and alcohol.” The group also doesn’t want open-carry laws in the state “that’s economically dependent on tourism to allow people to walk around public places with firearms exposed.”
“That’s not something that really fits into a ‘family friendly environment,’” she said.
The coalition has had backlash from groups who want more lax laws for gun owners, including the National Rifle Association, Florida Carry, and Students For Concealed Carry.
“We’re not surprised. I mean their agenda is really guns everywhere, that is not our agenda,” Brigham said. “We certainly don’t want to take anyone’s guns. We believe in responsible gun ownership.”
“I’m from the rural south. I grew up with folks who drove to school with a hunting rifle in the back of the truck,” she said. “It’s about having gun laws that recognize that the Second Amendment is not about unfettered access at all times under all circumstances to military style weapons capable of mass destruction, and it is irrational to behave as though any commonsense regulation on which weapons and where they can be had is tantamount to taking away guns from anyone under any circumstance.”
The Florida legislature has also been divided on gun laws. This past legislative session, 27 gun-related bills were introduced, 11 of which were from Republican State Sen. Greg Steube. He managed to get one through, but was blocked by fellow Republican, State Sen. Anitere Flores in the Florida Judiciary Committee, the first stop for the gun laws. She said outright that she would not vote for any of the other 10 bills Steube put forward, and her down vote essentially killed the bills’ chances to advance.
“He and I do not see eye-to-eye on probably any of the other gun bills,” said Flores, according to the Herald-Tribune. “I do not support having guns on campus, I do not support having guns in airports, I do not support having guns in school zones. I don’t support those things and Sen. Steube feels differently and that’s fine but this is where we are this year.”
The coalition was thrilled by the unlikely ally.
“She proved to be very courageous standing up to the gun lobby and to Sen. Steube,” Brigham said. “Of course we’re not happy that our bills weren’t heard, but we’re bringing them back next session…and feeling good that the bad bills were once again defeated.”
Some of the bills that wanted to make gun laws stricter included increasing penalties for shooters that had more than one magazine on them, ending the “gun-show loophole,” allowing the FDLE to ask gun buyers about their criminal history, and adding a requirement for mental health screenings for those wanting a concealed carry license.
Even though the session wasn’t a roaring success for the coalition and its supporters, Smith of Equality Florida says the LGBT community isn’t deterred.
“One of the things about the LGBT movement is that we have to take the long view,” she said. “We organized in a state where Anita Bryant put hate on the map, so we’ve always had to believe that educating people, telling our stories has an impact short term and long term.”
Quotes from community leaders
Here at the Key West Business Guild it’s our mission to market Key West to the LGBT community and part of that marking is to show it’s a safe community, so it goes hand in hand there, trying to do whatever we can do to end this gun violence. As we approach the year anniversary of Pulse it’s a shame not much has been done yet.
— Matt Hon, executive director of the Key West Business Guild
Equality Park is a weapons-free campus. The Center supports a wide array of public health and prevention approaches to protect and enhance the lives of our community members. One year ago, LGBTQ plus individuals were targeted and murdered at Pulse nightclub on Latin night during pride month in the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. We have a responsibility as a community center to work towards ensuring welcoming, safe, inclusive spaces for our community. This isn’t about politics. It’s about common sense steps to end gun deaths and save lives in our community.
— Kristofer Fegenbush, COO of The Pride Center at Equality Park
“We want responsible gun laws to keep everyone safe.”
—Mark Ketcham, Executive Director of SunServe
The Pulse nightclub shooting, which occurred one year ago next Monday, was the largest massacre in modern history. This horrific incident resulted in 49 lives taken from us by someone who had access to semi-automatic weapons and who was investigated prior by the FBI and who pledged his allegiance to ISIL on multiple occasions. This was an attack on our LGBTQ and our Latinx communities. Therefore Pridelines has joined the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, alongside many organizations such as Equality Florida and Centerlink, as a partner because we stand behind their intention to support two legislative reforms - 1) A state ban on all semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity feeding devices, and 2) Comprehensive universal background checks and ensuring that the State provides all relevant records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It is our mission to create safe and affirming spaces for South Florida's LGBTQ community and that must include ensuring that automatic weapons do not get into the hands of the people who mean to harm others.
—Victor Diaz Herman, Chief Executive Officer of Pridelines