Five years after the Pulse nightclub massacre the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues

Five years after the Pulse nightclub massacre the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues
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Five years ago, I was gifted a framed copy of President Obama’s final proclamation celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride month at the last Obama White House Pride reception. My wife and I left the East Wing that evening feeling proud and prepared to continue encouraging elected officials to pass LGBTQ+ inclusive laws in the United States.

This exuberance came to a grinding halt the next morning, when my younger sister called to report that 49 people, mostly of color, had been murdered overnight by a mass shooter at Pulse, an LGBTQ+ Nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Having grown up in Central Florida, this news hit dangerously close to home. Like many gay and queer friendly clubs, Pulse was a form of sanctuary for our community. News of the Pulse massacre shattered this notion of safe haven. I flew to Orlando later that day to help assist LGBTQ+ community and faith leaders organize and provide support on the ground. 

With blood staining the streets and sidewalks, state figureheads like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and then-Gov. Rick Scott attempted to convey compassion toward LGBTQ+ people; the same demographic they demonized on the campaign trail. Storefronts, restaurants and places of worship posted #OrlandoStrong signs and messages on windows. Religious services, memorials and vigils were held in honor of those who needlessly perished due to this senseless and horrific act of violence.

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The Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando is a harrowing and poignant reminder of why we need legislation like the Equality Act

After Pulse, politicians and elected officials on both sides of the aisle were quick to denounce violence and acts of hate against the queer community. Many outwardly express their support for the LGBTQ+ community today, especially during pride month. While verbal support can be powerful, we need to enact laws that guarantee the same rights and legal protections as other historically marginalized groups. Five years have passed since the Pulse shooting. Still, the Equality Act has yet to see the president’s desk. 

Because of this, Black LGBTQ+/SGL people specifically are more likely to feel unsafe and at risk of both physical violence and discrimination. 

Thankfully, the Orlando community has put in considerable effort to learn from this tragedy. City officials committed to building an LGBTQ+ museum and memorial park alongside the path that survivors traversed to escape the shooting. Community organizations have also provided grassroots funds and services to support the disproportionately impacted Latinx LGBTQ+ community and to families of victims and survivors.

After the Trump administration’s merciless attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, reading President BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month proclamation is bittersweet — a sobering reminder that recognition and inclusion of our community is not guaranteed.

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Although public opinion in the United States is in overwhelming support of the LGBTQ+ community, United States laws do not reflect this reality. The onus is not just on queer people to demand protection of our fundamental and basic human rights, as we have for generations; we need our allies to join us.  

So far, 2021 has brought a barrage of state-sponsored bills targeting and discriminating against transgender children with animus. To fight back effectively, we must advocate for the passage of state and federal legislation that safeguards the LGBTQ+ community's right to exist without fear.

With less than six months in office, Biden has taken a number of actions favoring the LGBTQ+ community. Cross department programs like the Gender Policy Council now exist to help protect women, both cisgender and transgender, from violence and discrimination. It is my sincere hope that the Domestic and Gender Policy Councils focus specifically on the wellbeing of Black transgender women, who live under constant threat of violence and murder

The Pulse nightclub massacre took place during pride month. This gruesome moment of anti-LGBTQ+ violence and so many more are inextricably linked to insidious laws, and lack of protective laws, that make discrimination against LGBTQ+ people technically legal. 

For lawmakers and advocates who have sat on the sidelines over the last five years, it is not too late to act, and to honor the lives lost and will continue to lose without your action. To truly move forward, we must all march, dance, and celebrate Pride this June just as vigilantly as we own our power to fight for equal rights and justice for all. Want to celebrate Pride? Call your U.S. Senator to urge them to support passage of the Equality Act today. 


Victoria Kirby York, MPA, serves as the deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, the leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black LGBTQ+/SGL people and communities. She has been an advocate for over twenty years as a former leader in Florida politics and a leader in a number of social justice movements including healthcare access, Black civil rights, and LGBTQ+ rights movements.