TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis faced a torrent of criticism from the LGBTQ community after removing mention of the group from a proclamation commemorating the third anniversary of the shooting at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead.
DeSantis, who has worked to brand himself as a Republican moderate, issued a proclamation Tuesday night in remembrance of the June 12, 2016, attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, but included no reference to the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ victims of the attack.
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In his proclamation, DeSantis listed the victims — misspelling one name — and referred to the Pulse gunman as “an ISIS-inspired terrorist.”
The proclamation resembled one issued last year by then-Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican. Scott’s proclamation referenced “Florida’s LGBTQ community,” language that was removed in the DeSantis version.
The omission prompted an outcry on social media Wednesday.
“Orlando’s LGBTQ community will never be erased,” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an openly-gay Democrat from Orlando, tweeted Wednesday morning without mentioning DeSantis by name.
DeSantis Communications Director Helen Aguirre Ferré did not respond to a request for comment.
“You have a governor who attempts to brand himself as moderate and yet he literally cut and paste a Rick Scott proclamation while intentionally removing and thus erasing the LGBTQ community,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents the district where Pulse is located.
“Gay clubs are sacred to LGBTQ people and are home to equality movements,” she told POLITICO.
That shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS during the attack and posted on Facebook that he was motivated by the United States killing “women and children by doing us airstrikes.” But the Pulse shooting nonetheless has become associated with attacks on the LGBTQ community.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter, Jaime, in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, took to Twitter to question DeSantis’ motives.
“What? This was an attack on the LGBTQ community committed with a gun. Was there a reason to do this?” Guttenberg wrote, referencing DeSantis’ LGBTQ omission.
As the backlash gained traction on social media early Wednesday, DeSantis tweeted about the Pulse anniversary, this time mentioning the LGBTQ community.
“Today we mourn the loss of life of 49 innocent victims of an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that targeted the LGBT and Hispanic community, and Florida as a whole,” DeSantis tweeted. “In honor of their memory, I am ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff.”
Eskamani called the tweet “damage control.”
“Advocacy matters. No doubt the Governor saw the blowback on social media for erasing LGBTQ people and is doing damage control,” she said. “An apology is warranted for the original Pulse proclamation.”
After campaigning in 2018 as a steadfast conservative, DeSantis has worked to brand himself as a political moderate since taking office. The proclamation, though, is not his first run-in with the LGBTQ community.
On January 8, the day DeSantis was sworn into office, he issued an executive order pledging that his administration would “prohibit discrimination in employment,” but excluded the LGBTQ community from the order.
“DeSantis has reaffirmed existing protections but fumbled the opportunity to take a clear stand that discrimination in any form will not be acceptable during his administration,” Equality Florida said in a statement at the time.
Despite the blowback, the order was never changed. The LGBTQ community had asked Scott to pass an executive order establishing protections against discrimination, which he did not deliver.
Eskamani also noted inaction by legislative leaders, who haven’t taken up legislation that would extend discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community.
Legislation advanced this year that applied to workplace protections — a more narrow version than past efforts — had bipartisan support, but failed to get a committee hearing. In the Senate, it was sponsored by Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters, a state Senator from Sarasota, but was never part of major discussions during the 2019 legislative decision.
“Every session we fail to do anything, like how we failed to take any action after Pulse,” Eskamani said.