While expressing curiosity at a forum held in Washington Wednesday over whether Gov. Rick Scott might attend next Monday’s Pulse memorial services, Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith slammed the governor, saying “he has done nothing” for the gay community since the June 12, 2016, massacre at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub.
Smith was speaking at a forum sponsored by the progressive groups Center for American Progress and the PRIDE Fund to look at the Pulse tragedy and how it affected Orlando, Florida, and state and national politics involving both LGBTQ issues and gun issues.
The openly-gay Orlando representative wondered whether Scott would, and whether he should, attend next Monday’s memorial ceremonies in Orlando for the 49 people who were murdered and 53 people who were wounded that night when madman Omar Mateen entered the club and sprayed bullets.
“He’s done nothing. And he should be held accountable,” Smith said of the governor.
On a panel Wednesday with Siclaly “Laly” Santiago-Leon, the cousin of a Pulse murder victim; Joanna Cifredo, a transgender activist from Orlando; and others, Smith said he believes the governor has changed twice since Pulse in his views of the LGBTQ community. Smith said he was convinced that Scott arrived in Orlando on June 12, 2016, unfamiliar with LGBTQ interests, and so did not acknowledge the community or its loss during the first day, which Smith said was understandable, given Scott’s background.
But Smith said he watched Scott evolve with exposure to Pulse families and survivors and become more understanding and sensitive – but then, devolve over ensuing months, to the point that Scott once again did not acknowledge the gay community when he talked about Pulse in his opening address to the Florida Legislature.
Smith said Scott now is in an awkward position regarding Pulse, the same position he was in a year ago. Smith said the governor had appeared at the massive Pulse vigil held at Lake Eola Park on June 19, 2016, asked if he should speak, was advised that he might be booed, and so did not speak.
“Why would he be booed? Because the LGBTQ community knows that he’s done nothing for us,” Smith said. “So look, Monday is the one year mark of the tragedy of Pulse. I don’t know if the governor is coming to Orlando. I don’t know if he’s going to participate. But what has he done for us? What has he done to send a message that Florida is a place that does not tolerate discrimination against LGBTQ people? We know the answer.”
The two-hour forum, “One Year After Pulse Nightclub Shooting,” also featured a tearful keynote address from Pulse survivor Jeff Rodriguez, who was shot four times that night, very nearly died, and is still recovering. Rodriguez declared that he is and always has been pro-gun, and wished he had a handgun that night. But he joined the agenda pushed by PRIDE Fund for universal background checks, preventing people convicted of hate crimes or once watched by the FBI from obtaining weapons, federal research into gun violence, and restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, and high-capacity magazines.
“I am one of those 53; a year later, Pulse has not ended for us,” Rodriguez said. “I really believe that we need to get out there and make a diference and change some of these laws.”
The forum also was to include a congressional discussion featuring Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Val Demings of Orlando, together with Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut. Murphy and Demings skipped out, citing congressional committees they had to attend. Esty, whose district includes Newtown, Ct., site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, came and talked about gun legislation and anti-discrimination legislation.
So did Smith, who skipped out on the opening day of the Florida Legislature Special Session to be there. His criticisms of Scott emerged from a discussion in which he and Cifredo decried what she called “toxic masculinity.” She said it formed the cultural backdrop for the Pulse massacre, and much of the hatred and homophobia that gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender people endure. And she said it was evidenced by politicians who entirely characterized Mateen as as a radical Islamic terrorist who had pledged to ISIS, while refusing to acknowledge his professed hatred of gays that had led him to attack Pulse specifically. Refusal to denounce that hatred perpetuates it, she said.
“In the wake of the Pulse shooting there was this narrative by state politicians, or just Florida politicians, trying to use the shooter’s [Islamic] background as a scapegoat, and to absolve themselves simultaneously from any culpability,” Cifredo said. “And so the whole narrative was on his background and ethnicity, without actually focusing on the culture that actually bred him and brought him into existence.”
Smith cited the culture Cifredo spoke of for what he said was Scott’s move back away from sensitivity to the LGBTQ community, and for the death in this year’s Legislative Session of the Florida Workplace Competitive Act, which would have extended anti-discrimination laws to gay employees.
“I’m frustrated with the political situation in Florida, post-Pulse,” Smith said. “At minimum, at minimum, one would think, after the worst hate crime against LGBTQ people in our country’s history, at Pulse, that Republican leaders in Tallahassee in the very least would send a message that discrimination against LGBTQ people in Florida will not be tolerated.”