The cuts came a day after Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed an anti-trans sports bill
As Florida approaches the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, where 49 mostly Latinx LGBT+ people were killed, the state’s Republican governor on Wednesday vetoed funding for programmes that would go towards mental health counseling for survivors and LGBT+ youth.
Survivors of the tragedy, one of America’s largest-ever mass shootings, were outraged, after Mr DeSantis had previously pledged to back them during public appearances.
“Here’s @GovRonDeSantis in 2019, standing on hallowed ground, promising me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting,” wrote Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor and member of Equality Florida, an LGBT+ activist group. “Today, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget.”
Mr DeSantis on Wednesday decided to veto two LGBT+ initiatives: $150,000 that would go to the Orland United Assistance Center, which provides counseling and employment services to Pulse survivors, as well as $750,000 earmarked for building LGTB+ youth housing.
Advocates in the state were deeply disappointed with the governor, noting that the decisions came just a day after he signed a bill barring trans athletes from competing in school sports matching their gender and that the state has a $9.5bn budgetary reserve it could spend.
“I was just taken aback because [the appropriation] got to his desk,” Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Orlando-based Zebra Coalition, told The Orland Sentinel. “It takes so much work to get it through the Legislature, but it passed, and even yesterday with the trans sports bill — which is a terrible, terrible thing for our kids — I still had hope. But now we’re going to be left picking up the pieces and there’s not even going to be support for housing for them.”
Mr DeSantis has previously cut budget items meant for Pulse survivors, and has been criticised in the past for failing to mention LGBT+ people in workplace discrimination executive orders—and in a remembrance of the Pulse shooting itself, though the governor later amended it.
“Timing matters. What message are LGBT people meant to receive from Gov. DeSantis other than that this is an insult to them?” state representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, told Click Orlando. “The Orlando community right now is bracing for the five-year remembrance, and for Gov. DeSantis to veto funding for Pulse survivors and families is just cruel.”
Mr DeSantis helped raise $1m for a Pulse memorial, and has publicly stated his commitment to stand by the survivors of the shooting, which killed 49, injured 60, and left hundreds of people traumatized.
“The State of Florida will not tolerate hatred towards the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities, and as Floridians we stand united against terrorism and hate of any kind,” Mr DeSantis said in 2020, on the four-year anniversary of the shooting. “We will never forget the selflessness of those who risked their lives in the face of danger, nor the courage demonstrated by our law enforcement and first responders who were on the scene within minutes to provide assistance to the injured and victims of the shooting.”
The governor’s office defended its decision, noting that Mr DeSantis approved a budget that included more than $212 million which would go to mental health services.
“Governor DeSantis has been a champion on mental health since day one — and he absolutely supports each and every Floridian who has experienced such horrific trauma, which has a lifelong impact on survivors,” a spokesman said in a statement.
Mr DeSantis has been criticised previously for appearing with Raynard Jackson, a pundit who once said gay leaders were using the Pulse shooting to advance the “radical homosexual agenda”.
The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, announced on Tuesday it is suing the DeSantis administration over the trans sports bill.