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A year later, Orlando looks at Pulse and people still ask ‘Why?’

The shock, horror, and a community’s pain have not eased in the year since Orlando’s Pulse massacre and people still come, still in total disbelief, asking, “Why?”

The trauma of the nation’s worst-ever mass shooting, on Latino night at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub, is blood-deep among the survivors, and the families and friends of the 49 who were murdered and 53 who were left for dead yet survived, in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016; and for the police, deputies, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and all others who lived that day, and every day, since inside the calamity.

On Monday bells will toll. At 1 a.m., Pulse owner Barbara Poma will lead a private memorial at the club to the 49 killed. At 10 a.m. Orange County will unfurl the Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag section, and the Orange County Regional History Center will open its One Orlando exhibit of Pulse memorabilia. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. a large memorial service will be held at the Pulse nightclub. At 7 p.m. the whole community is invited to a remembrance ceremony at Lake Eola Park. At 10 p.m. a final private memorial will be held at Pulse.

For most of the rest of Central Florida, and by extension countless of people throughout the country, the world, the Pulse massacre remains the cold, hard slap that changed consciousness. You didn’t have to be there, you didn’t have to know someone who was, to be part of what has become OrlandoUnited.

Many still stop by the club to wander among its makeshift memorials. For them, too, the specter of abomination still haunts in Orlando.

“Why?”

“Why?” asked Joseph Moore, visiting Pulse during an Orlando vacation from Nashville.

The question has officially been answered. Shooter Omar Mateen, apparently suffering from mental illness, harboring a great hatred of gays, and, at least in the end, professing loyalty to ISIS, bought guns, went to Pulse and killed, wounded, and brought down more anguish than anyone could imagine. But that doesn’t answer the broader question that still haunts. Why is this even possible?

“It was shocking, to know that something like this could happen so close to your house,” said Jose Torres of Orlando. “In my wildest dream I could never imagine that something like this could happen here in Orlando.

“There’s a lot of hatred, not only of the gay community but through everybody, we have hatred of race, of religion,” Torres said. So, I mean it’s scary that the United States that we have such diverse culture, that in 2017 we’re still living with this type of hatred for each other.”

“It’s just an unthinkable thing, to have that kind thing happen here,” said Matthew Garnetti of Orlando.

“I just don’t know how people can do that to other people,” said Sal Alvarez of Los Angeles, who was in Orlando with his family for a vacation, took the family first to Pulse. “We all have different beliefs and lifestyles. I think we can all learn something, to not judge, to accept people for who they are, no matter what they believe in, or their lifestyle.”

“Sadness. It makes me cry. I’m crying. It just hurts to know that this happened,” said another out-of-town visitor, Kaytiame Rottler of Lafayette, Ind., “It raises questions: Why people do what they do, and what possesses them? Everyone is human, no matter what they look like or who they love.”

Arnsley Cortes‘s brother was at Pulse the night of June 11, 2016, but left before the shooting started. She paid her respects to Pulse late last week.

“When I see it, it feels like all the people that are so mean to one another, with everything going on,” she said. “For some reason they find a way to hurt others. And it’s not right.”

Orlando trauma surgeon: the Pulse attack ‘changed me’

Life seems more precious these days to Dr. Chadwick Smith, an Orlando Regional Medical Center trauma surgeon who was on call that night a year ago when a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub.

Smith is used to confronting human suffering head-on in the operating room. But the sheer number of victims that night – 49 dead, 53 wounded – and the flood of relatives to the hospital left its mark on even a veteran like Smith.

“It’s affected me. It’s affected my family. How I describe that, I don’t know. It’s something that has changed me,” Smith said Wednesday.

It took weeks, if not months, he said, to reflect on what he and his colleagues did that night, the lives they saved. And how different the victims were from more routine gunshot victims.

“You deal with, say, somebody’s robbing somebody and they get shot, you deal with that a little bit differently than you do somebody in a terrible, innocent situation,” he said. “Then you multiply that by 80-some-odd people, combining those that lived and died, and emotionally that affects you a lot more.”

A year later, the Pulse attack has affected the daily operations of the hospital and the way employees plan for future disaster events. For example, instead of having dozens of public entrances to the hospital, there are now only a few to address safety concerns.

The hospital also modified its disaster plan, Smith said, including how to handle relatives of victims who show up looking for their loved ones.

“Most people are emotional. They may need medical attention. They may need pastoral care,” Smith said. “Having cellphone chargers for them, having food for them, it requires a lot of people and a lot of support, other than just a room to put people in and give them some water.”

They’ve also tried to improve on employee counseling and issues with patient identification, Smith said. The goal is to quickly and accurately tell anxious family members a loved one’s condition.

Hospital staff participated in an annual disaster drill in April.

“I will say everybody took that drill even more seriously this year than we have in the past,” Smith said.

Carlos Carrasco, the medical center’s chief operating officer, called his team’s response to the Pulse attack “remarkable,” the product of a culture built over decades.

“When you think about the team, people automatically think about those folks who were there that night,” Carrasco said. “But there were people that came in and sustained the efforts for months, all the way through to rehab.”

Rick Scott proclaims June 12 ‘Pulse Remembrance Day’

Gov. Rick Scott has proclaimed next Monday, June 12, to be “Pulse Remembrance Day” in Florida, calling for flags to fly at half staff and for a moment of silence at 9 a.m.

In doing so, Scott also acknowledged the blows to the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities,  and does not explicitly describe the attack, which killed 49 and wounded 53, as a radical Islamic terrorist attack. That is characterization he has not always used, and for which he has received stern criticism from critics, most recently earlier this week from state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat.

“I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 a.m. to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse terror attic,” Scott said in a release announcing the proclamation. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic Community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.”

The proclamation begins by stating that on “June 12, 2016, a terrorist inspired by ISIS targeted the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and took 49 innocent lives.”

It then states that “the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities were viciously attacked during this senseless tragedy.”

It goes on to praise the responses, bravery, heroism, care, compassion and love from law enforcement, first responders, medical personnel, volunteer and charitable organizations.

It also commends groups for coming together “to restore hope and pecs during Orlando’s darkest time of need,” and acknowledges the “lives of survivors, families and loved ones forever changed by this senseless and hateful act.”

“The horrific terror attack at Pulse attempted to rip at the seams of our society, strike fear in our hearts and divide us,” Scott stated in the news release. “Yet, in the face of extreme adversity and loss, Floridians showed resiliency, bravery and love. Over the past year, our state, the city of Orlando and the many Floridians affected by this tragedy have shown incredible resolve as we continue to mourn the loved and lost. As we pause to honor the 49 victims of this tragic attack this Monday, my wife and I will say a prayer for each of them and their families. We will also be reminded of all the people who helped others in need. The law enforcement officers, first responders, medical personnel, faith and spiritual leaders and Central Florida families defined what Florida is all about. We care about each other and we came together when it was needed the most.”

 

Supreme Court sends Bessman Okafor sentence back, Rick Scott reassigns it from Aramis Ayala

The Florida Supreme Court has remanded another murder case death penalty from Orlando, that of Bessman Okafor, and Gov. Rick Scott quickly reassigned it away from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

The move came with swift intervention from state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who asked the governor to keep the case from going back to Ayala, who has vowed to not prosecute death penalties. The governor concurred, reassigning it to neighboring State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit, as he has done with 23 previous first-degree murder cases in the past three months.

“I am grateful,” said Cortes, a Republican who has been a stern critic of Ayala’s declaration and how she arrived at her decision.

Okafor’s murder conviction stands, according to the Supreme Court. The court threw out his death penalty and ordered another penalty phase trial.

He was convicted of murdering a witness who was expected to testify at Okafor’s upcoming armed robbery trial, and of trying to murder two others, who survived being shot, in 2012. However, during the penalty phase of his 2015 trial, the jury voted 11-1 to sentence Okafor to death. That was good enough for the legal standard of 2015, but that standard was thrown out in 2016, and Florida now requires a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence.

On Thursday the Supreme Court decided on the appeal of Okafor’s sentence, and sent it back to the 9th Judicial Circuit for a new sentencing phase.

Cortes then urged the governor to reassign it, declaring in a letter his “distrust that this case will not be given the attention it requires and deserves.” Scott then redirected it to King, using the same assertion he used for 23 other murder cases that have been diverted from Ayala.

“The unequivocal statements of State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala raise grave concerns regarding her silliness to abide by and uphold the uniform application of the laws of the state of Florida, and the ends of justice will be best served by the assignment of another state attorney to discharge the duties of State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala with respect to the investigation, prosecution, and all matters related to Bessman Okafor,” Scott wrote in his order.

Ayala expressed satisfaction that the court remanded the case, and no surprise at Scott’s executive order.

“I am very pleased that Bessman Okafor’s conviction for his horrific crimes was upheld today by the Supreme Court of Florida,” she said in a written statement. “Florida’s High Court was tasked with attempting to resolve the chaos surrounding Florida’s death penalty statute after being stricken down by the United States Supreme Court early last year. I am not surprised by the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling nor the Governors’ hasty reaction.”

That order, and Ayala’s authority to refuse the death penalty, will soon also be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

Ayala filed in the Supreme Court in April to assert that she has full authority to refuse to prosecute death penalties under prosecutorial discretion, and that Scott does not have the authority to reassign cases from her just because he disagrees with her. Scott answered that Ayala overstepped her authority and her blanket refusal is a violation of her legal duties, and that he has the power to intervene when a state attorney is breaking the law.

The Supreme Court has received a dozen arguments from Ayala, Scott, and friends of the court, and has set oral arguments for June 28.

Congressional ‘Blue Dog Democrats’ caucus endorses Stephanie Murphy’s secrets bill

Winter Park’s U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has won the endorsement of the Congressional Blue Dog Democrats’ Caucus for her bill clamping down on administration officials’ sharing classified information with America’s enemies.

Murphy introduced her Prevention and Oversight of Intelligence Sharing with Enemies Act last month after reports that President Donald Trump had shared classified information with Russian diplomats in an oval office meeting.

“At a time when discussions about our national security are increasingly political and partisan, the Blue Dogs are staying focused on commonsense solutions that protect our country,”U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, the caucus’s co-chair for communications stated in a news release. “It is crucial for Congress to have oversight authority over all U.S. officials, including the President, when it comes to disclosing highly sensitive information.”

The Blue Dogs are a coalition of moderate Democrats. Murphy joined the caucus shortly before she took office.

The POISE Act requires the president to notify congressional intelligence committees when an official in the executive branch of the federal government, including the president, knowingly or unintentionally reveals top secret classified information to the representatives of a nation that is designated to be a state sponsor of terrorism or is the subject of U.S. economic sanctions based on state-sponsored conduct.

Executive Order 12356 states that the unauthorized disclosure of information that falls under the top secret classification level “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

The Blue Dogs contend that the POISE Act would deter disclosure of top secret information to representatives of foreign adversaries, and empower Congress to exercise its appropriate oversight function by evaluating the rationale behind these disclosures, examining any potential damage, and taking any other appropriate oversight action.

Medical marijuana shop opening in Edgewater

Another Central Florida medical marijuana shop is opening, this one operated by the licensed marijuana medicines producer Trulieve in Edgewater in Volusia County.

The dispensary, at 103 Boston Rd., will be the first in the Space Coast area, providing both low-THC and high-THC products through capsules, vaporizers and tinctures, for patients who are registered as qualified with the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use.

Last week Knox Medical opened a shop in Orlando.

“Our goal is to help as many patients as we can, so we’re thrilled we can now better serve our patients in Edgewater and Volusia County,” Trulieve Chief Executive Officer Kim Rivers stated in a news release. “Opening new dispensary locations is vital to ensuring faster delivery times and increasing patient access. We will continue to open more locations throughout the rest of the year.”

Trulieve currently delivers marijuana-based medicines statewide, and has five other dispensaries, in Clearwater, Miami, Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Tampa.

Bobby Olszewski qualifies by petition for HD 44 special election

Republican Bobby Olszewski has become the first qualified candidate for the special elections set for later this year to fill the vacant seat for House District 44 in western Orange County.

Olszewski’s campaign said it collected more than 400 petition signatures and on Wednesday the Orange County Supervisor of Elections certified 370, enough to put him on the ballot.

The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 15, with the final election on Oct. 10.

“I couldn’t be more thankful to our great volunteers who helped us reach this goal with our voters in record time,” Olszewski stated in a news release. “My volunteers and I will out and about in our community throughout this election looking to bring our hometown, conservative principles to Tallahassee.”

He is one of four Republicans who have filed for the special election to replace Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned last month to take a gubernatorial appointment to Florida’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also seeking to get on the ballot are Kissimmee Chamber of Commerce President John Newstreet, businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and Dr. Usha Jain, and one Democrat, businessman Paul Chandler.

The district, covering much of west Orange County, is solidly Republican, but Democrats have vowed an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign they hope could make a difference in a low-turnout special election. The seat is particularly attractive to Republicans because of the assumption that the winner could have a leg-up in the quest for the House of Representatives’ speaker’s position, with an 18-month head start in seniority over other members of what will be the House’s class of 2018.

Orlando Sentinel shutting down its printing plant

The Orlando Sentinel is shutting down its newspaper printing operations and will contract that work to plants owned by GateHouse Media in Lakeland and Daytona Beach, the newspaper reported Wednesday afternoon.

The transition to outside printing contractors will take several months to complete, through September, according to a report the Sentinel published on its website Wednesday afternoon.

It will result in the loss of 89 full-time and 26 part-time positions at the Sentinel’s printing plant, which is located in a building adjacent and connected to the Orlando Sentinel office, at 633 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando.

The Sentinel’s property is owned by a Miami investment firm Midtown Opportunities VIB LLC, which bought the buildings and 19 acres last summer for $35 million from Tribune Media, and then leased them back to the newspaper.

The article stated that the newspaper’s editorial and advertising staff would remain in the Sentinel’s office building.

Still, the relocation of the printing operations would open up future options.

The Sentinel’s parent companies had long marketed the property as a potential redevelopment project on the north end of downtown. Company officials have discussed the prospect of moving the journalists, advertising department and other office-based staff into leased office space somewhere else, as was done with the paper’s sister paper, the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.

Relocating the printing operations was seen as a complication in any such plan.

 

 

Carlos Smith: Since Pulse, Rick Scott has done nothing for LGBTQ community

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.”

After Pulse attack, gay Latino community seeks strength

Ricardo Negon never kissed his boyfriend in front of conservative relatives. Carlos Guillermo Smith was once attacked by anti-gay students at a college party. After coming out in high school, Marco Quiroga left his mother’s home and became temporarily homeless.

Many gay Latinos in Orlando have endured indignities, rejection or violence because of their sexual orientation. But in the year since a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub, these men and others have sought to strengthen their wounded community, forming support groups and community organizations, seeking seats at the tables of power, and creating a foundation to champion gays and Latinos.

“There’s no question that the tragedy at Pulse has created an entire new generation of grassroots leaders who are young, who are queer, people of color, who want to make a difference and affect change,” said Smith, who was elected to Florida’s Legislature last fall.

Most of the dead at Pulse were gay Latinos, and the attack on June 12, 2016, highlighted the gulf between gay people of color and other gays.

Though Orlando’s gay institutions are open to anyone, some gay Latinos did not use them, either because of language barriers or because Orlando’s Latino communities are scattered throughout the metro area and much of Orlando’s gay life is concentrated downtown. There were other obstacles too, including cultural issues of “machismo,” deep Latino connections to the Roman Catholic Church and, for some, concerns about immigration status.

Before Pulse, many gay Latinos could meet in gay bars only on Latin or hip-hop nights.

“In our community, there was an absence of spaces for people who were queer and people of color,” said Christopher Cuevas, who founded the support group QLatinx after the Pulse shooting.

Still, many regarded Orlando as a haven, both for its visible gay community and for its thriving Latino population. Of metro Orlando’s 2.3 million people, more than a quarter are Hispanic, with Puerto Ricans making up about half of the Latino population. Smith describes Orlando “as one of the gayest cities in America.”

“Which makes what happened here so shocking because this is already such an inclusive community,” said Smith, who grew up in South Florida and moved to Orlando for college. “This is a city that is very supportive of the LGBTQ community.”

To Javier Nava, Orlando seemed like a gay Magic Kingdom when he visited during a pride weekend three years ago from small-town North Carolina, where he worked in the restaurant business without legal permission to be in the United States.

“When I came here, and I see the gay pride, I just fell in love with Orlando, so full of Latinos,” said Nava, who is originally from Mexico City and moved to Orlando shortly after his visit. He recently became eligible to stay in the U.S. legally. “It just seemed free and open here,” he said.

When the gunshots began at Pulse, Negron at first thought they were coming from the beats of the thumping reggaeton music. Then the music stopped and everyone dropped to the floor.

He managed to run out of an exit as gunman Omar Mateen kept firing. Mateen, a New York-born son of Afghan immigrants who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, was killed hours later in a shootout with police.

Nava was on the dance floor when he heard what sounded like a fight. That’s when everybody got on the floor. A moment later, he felt something hit his abdomen and realized he had been shot.

Debating in his head whether to play dead or try to escape, he stood up, ran through a door behind the bar and found stairs leading up to a second-story office. Five other people followed him and hid under the desks. They called 911, and dispatchers gave them instructions on how to stanch Nava’s bleeding.

They tried to be quiet until police found them about half an hour later. As the officers escorted them out, Nava saw the lifeless body of a friend on the floor.

Smith was in bed at home when his smartphone started beeping furiously before dawn with news about Pulse. Before long, he was standing shoulder to shoulder at a news conference with leaders of Orlando’s Muslim community to show that Orlando “respects inclusivity and diversity.”

In the aftermath of the attack, a joint venture between local governments and nonprofits offered mental health services and other assistance to Pulse victims and their families. But because of language barriers, immigration fears or previous feelings of disconnection, some of the victims and their families did not feel like they could use the services, Cuevas said.

The community had to “create our own because these spaces never catered to us before. They didn’t understand us, and they still don’t,” he said.

Thus was born QLatinx, a community group for Latino gay and lesbians. The Q stands for “queer,” and “Latinx” is a gender-neutral form of “Latino.” The organization holds support-group meetings every week and is starting a storytelling project in which they hope to dismantle stereotypes of what it means to be gay and Latino through the personal stories of its members. They’re also helping more mainstream gay organizations, like the local LGBTQ center, cater to the needs of gay Latinos.

Quiroga has undertaken a similar effort with the Contigo Fund, which was formed after the Pulse tragedy with $1.5 million in funding from several national foundations. The goal was to financially support LGBTQ and social-justice causes in central Florida, with a particular focus on Latino communities. The fund has given grants to QLatinx, as well as Proyecto Somos Orlando, a nonprofit community center run by Negron that offers bilingual mental health counseling, conversational English classes and immigration assistance for free.

Through the center, case managers check in with Pulse survivors at least once a month. Proyecto Somos Orlando soon will start a program helping newly arrived LGBTQ Puerto Ricans adjust to life in central Florida and hold regular seminars on topics like how to use the health care system.

The ultimate goal is to create a safe haven for LGBTQ people of color that can be a model for other cities, said Quiroga, who moved to Orlando as a 2-year-old from Peru. He is part of a program that allows immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children to stay.

Many of the Pulse survivors are in demand to talk to politicians, celebrities and activists about gun violence and gay rights. Nava met Hillary Clinton and talked in Spanish about immigration policy with vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine.

For Nava, the Pulse tragedy forced him to engage with the wider world in ways he never expected. He and his husband, Adrian Lopez, who escaped the nightclub unhurt, have shared their stories about the Pulse massacre with Clinton, Kaine and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot six years ago during a public appearance, among others.

“At that level, it’s a big step for our community,” Nava said, explaining that his discussion with Kaine about immigration reform represented more than just one person talking with “one of the people who might run this country.”

“It’s me, as a gay Latino, talking to one of those people. In Spanish.”

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