Community leaders on moving forward after tragedy

By : Compiled by Billy Manes
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We reached out to several community leaders for their commentary on moving forward.

Here are some excerpts from their responses.

U.S. Rep Alan Grayson
One step forward, 49 steps back.

Last year, I faced down the homophobic Florida Family Policy Council, arranged for same-sex marriages to take place at the Osceola County Courthouse at 12:01 am on Jan. 6, 2015 and served happily as the ring-bearer at the first one.  That was a good day.

June 12, 2016 at 2:02 am in downtown Orlando – that was a bad day.  A brutal day.  A day of carnage.

When I speak about the civil rights movement, I often mention Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, three young civil rights workers shot dead in Mississippi in 1964.  It seems that every great social movement must have its martyrs.  The cost of social change is human sacrifice.

As MLK Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

In the midst of our grief, we must find patience, as the tectonic plates of society move ever-so-slowly toward equality.  And we also can summon a little pride – gay pride – about how much we already have accomplished, and the accomplishments to come.  For instance:

Ending criminal and mental-illness punishment of homosexuality – done.

The right to serve openly in the military – done.

Federal protection from hate crimes – done.

Same-sex marriage – done.

And the victories to come, if we work together, for example:

Complete equality in the raising of children.

Anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws.

Full health coverage for all LGBTQ health needs.

Equality in social, government and employment benefits.

And finally, freedom from fear – fear that you will be hurt or punished because of whom you love.

It won’t be easy, but we can get it done.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome, some day.

I do believe, deep in my heart,

That we shall overcome, some day.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham
Nationally, it’s time for Congress to work together to support commonsense reforms that prevent weapons of war from falling into the hands of criminals and terrorists.

In Florida, our elected officials – the governor, cabinet and legislature – need to examine how we allowed a terrorist to get a weapons license, and what we can do to prevent that from ever happening again.

If they aren’t willing to work on this issue after the deadliest mass shooting occurred in our own backyard — then it’s time to elect new leaders.

Former State Rep. Linda Stewart
Like most of the community, I am in mourning for our city. I also acknowledge that we are a great City and we have shown the world how our love and our commitment will move us forward. The Pulse shooting was one of hate, perpetrated by a hateful man who suffered from mental illnesses; he was once on FBI list and still had easy access to military assault weapons.  At this point, there is nothing to learn about the continued shootings, they all have the same three elements; mental illness, on an FBI list to watch, and hate. Our elected officials know what to do and how to control these circumstances by now, but we aren’t seeing any action.

Elected officials, who have never supported the LGBTQ community, never supported reasonable gun legislation and who will not fund mental illness need to be called out.  It is not enough to say “I’m sorry for your loss”.  Do not use tragedies for political gain.  Where is your commitment, where is your legislation for change? Where is action?

The assault rifle ban in the 1990s did not cause the world to end.  Guns were not taken from anyone and they will not be collected.  We have the right to bear arms, however, we do not have the right to have the same arms that our police and military use, and we certainly do not have the right to not be checked if we are involved in a no fly list or any terrorist list.   Any inconvenience gun owners face pales in comparison to the hurt that an AR-15 caused to the victims at Pulse.

I am sending my love and prayers to the families of the Pulse tragedy.  I also intend to do something about it and encourage others to stand with me and make changes.  Over 50,000 people attended a vigil, that’s 50,000 people who want to create change to improve this community and I am proud to stand with them.

If I am sent back to Tallahassee, I will do everything I can to fight for the safety and dignity of this community. There will be a push for more mental health funding, I will sponsor a bill to restrict military assault weapons, and I will push for harsh penalties for hate crimes.  If you know me, after a decade of service, you know I will stand up and I will never be quiet, I am with you and you are my family.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
I said the first day that we wouldn’t be defined by the act of a hate-filled killer, we’d be defined by how we respond, how we support the victims and the families and each other. And I think that we have responded in a way that has unified our city like never before. I think that a lot of hearts have been opened and that people that might not have been as supportive of all people in all ways of life maybe have a different point of view today. I went to St. Michael’s Episcopal on Sunday and the pastor – I’ll quote part of his sermon – said, “The spirit of God has touched the hearts and lives of Orlando and all around the world … and has forever touched by the senseless loss of these 49 lives. And (1:30) to bring good news to the oppressed, the spirit of God is moving on Orlando to find out the broken-hearted, to comfort those who mourn, to bring those shackled and chained. The spirit of God is asking Orlando to stand up and speak out against hatred, violence and division.” And I think we have the opportunity to be the city that does stand up and speak out against hatred, violence and division.

Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith

I have wanted to write to say thank you on behalf of Equality Florida.

The outpouring of love and support have held together our broken hearts. I had hoped to say something profound and important but I find anger has overtaken grief today and eloquence is not a priority. People we knew are gone. People we know are in such pain. It feels as though we have to do something profoundly different right now.

A question has been called and people have to choose. Will you uproot this toxic dehumanization of the LGBT community or will you, by action or indifference, nourish hate?

If you stand against justice and equal protection under the law, there can be no illusion that it is a reasonable position. No qualifiers can be applied about timing and circumstance. You believe we are your equals or your inferiors. Full stop.

I am angry in my grieving but I am not consumed by darkness right now. I’ve seen something remarkable happening in this aftermath. Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs apologizing publicly for having dragged her feet years ago on Domestic Partnership, tearfully and sincerely acknowledging and accepting that she was wrong. No one who witnessed it doubts that she is making her journey to the right side of history.

Look at how megachurch evangelical Joel Hunter responded to this question:

“Q: What complicity do American evangelicals have for a culture that relegates LGBT folks to a category of ‘other?’”

A: Unfortunately, a lot. And I’m sorry to say that. I have to own up to my own part in that. When you’re in a position of power, as institutional forms of white Christianity have been for the last 200 years, you tend not to wish people ill but to avoid the necessary change, to maintain the status quo, because you have a pretty good position.”

A pastor who led the way on the “Pastor Protection” Act reached out to say “I was wrong.”

I have read of Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in South Africa, and I can catch a glimmer of the healing and progress potential in these moments. I am not cynical about what I have seen and we will invest in helping accelerate those journeys. But…

I believe the country must feel our anger along with our grief. We need to provide the clarity that this choice is before you right now.

The Confederate flag came down in South Carolina because no more room was left to finesse the point. We need our friends to be fired up and we must know that “friendly” is not the same as “friend”.

A question has been called here. Will you stand with the bullies and the bigots or stand on the side of justice and equality?

Congressional candidate Susannah Randolph
What happened in Orlando was an act of hate. It was an act of terror. And we cannot allow it to happen again. We need to put an end to gun violence, right here, right now. Orlando certainly isn’t the first place to bear witness to the horror of a mass shooting, but it should be the last. That’s why I am calling on Congress to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, overturn the federal funding ban on gun violence research at the CDC, and expand background checks.

Enough is enough. We need our elected officials to stand up to the gun lobby, to say no to the NRA’s political agenda. We need our elected officials to put the health and safety of our families and our community first. This will not be an easy fight, but it is an important one. I’m not going to back down, and I know Orlando won’t back down from this fight either.

State Sen. Darren Soto (also a 2016 U.S. Congressional candidate)
First and Foremost my responsibility is to make sure services and funds are provided to the victims and families of this great tragedy. This will require significant oversight from our office and from those of our peers. In addition there are potential policy changes that need to be pushed in both the short term and long term. More specifically we have proposed to have a special session immediately to close the terror gap, which would ban those on the no-fly list and the FBI’s watch list from possessing firearms.

This is something I believe both parties can support and should be passed without delay. Over the coming months as we get towards regular session, we must pass the “Competitive Workforce Act;” which would provide LGBT protections in the work place, housing, and public accommodations. We must also assure that members of the LGBT community are given protected class status, so that acts of violence against them can be treated as hate crimes. Finally, we must enact reasonable gun reforms including reinstituting the “Assault Weapons Ban,” closing the gun show and internet check loophole, as well as requiring safety training. It is my hope that enacting these reforms will address many of the issues arising out of the Orlando Mass Shooting Tragedy.

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