Tag Archives: massacre

Orlando wants to keep Pulse assistance center open

An assistance center for victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre should remain open for several more years, according to Orlando officials.

The Orlando Sentinel reports the city council voted Aug. 29 to pay the Heart of Florida United Way over $123,000 to staff the Orlando United Assistance Center through early November. City officials said they’ll discuss a longer contract that would keep it open for several more years.

Survivors of the shooting can seek grief counseling, rent assistance and other services at the center, which was established in an unused Orange County government building shortly after the June 12 massacre at a packed gay nightclub.

Leydiana Puyarena, who was shot in the leg inside Pulse, said the center connected her with a psychologist and provided about $3,000 for rent and utilities.

“I have my counseling sessions and that’s helping me a lot, but once the (OneOrlando Fund) money is dispersed, I won’t need to ask them for any other help,” she said. “That money is really what is going to help me and the others and allow us to move forward with our lives.”

The OneOrlando Fund is preparing pay-outs later this month for the families of 49 people killed and dozens more people hurt or affected by the massacre.

Puyarena said she was glad the city plans to keep the center open.

“I know a lot of people will still be needing help as time goes on,” she said.

The city turned over management of the assistance center to the Heart of Florida United Way in July, with about $93,000 for about two months’ of services.

“We think that there is still going to be a lot of need for therapy, mental health counseling, support groups, things like that,” said Stephanie Husted, the center’s director.

The newspaper quoted a senior adviser to the city on social services, Lori Pampilo Harris, as saying the center will be needed for “no less than three years.”

From July 11 through Aug. 22, the center scheduled 235 appointments with victim advocates and helped 129 clients with basic needs such as rent, mortgage or car payments, Husted said.

“We want to make sure to really individualize each case and make sure that we’re trying to get them to some type of normalcy, rather than a one-time type of assistance,” she said.

 

 

 

Autopsies suggest killer targeted victims at Pulse nightclub

More than a third of the 49 patrons killed during the Pulse nightclub massacre were shot in the head, and most of the victims had multiple bullet wounds, according to autopsy reports released this week.

Only two victims at the LGBT club had traces of soot, gunpowder or stippling, meaning most of the victims were likely more than 3 feet away when they were shot in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The autopsies show that about half of the victims had five wounds or more, and one victim had 13 wounds.

Gunman Omar Mateen was killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers following a three-hour standoff June 12.

“It shows he shot a lot and had a lot of ammo,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, a Colorado-based forensic pathologist, who has no connection to the case.

The large number of head injuries and multiple wounds on victims suggests Mateen was targeting his victims rather than shooting randomly, said Josh Wright, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst who now has a forensics consulting firm in Tallahassee.

“I wouldn’t expect to have those many hits on those many people if you weren’t actually trying to take aim and make sure you hit your target rather than running around, spraying bullets,” said Wright, who also has no connection to the case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether anyone died from friendly fire during the shootout at the gay nightclub.

Officers knocked down a wall and stormed the club, killing Mateen in hail of gunfire. Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was shot eight times by police.

Cina said without evidence of stippling — particles of gunpowder in the skin — it’s difficult to know if the victims were shot in the head point-blank.

Michael Knox, a Jacksonville-based firearms expert, said the large number of victims with multiple wounds could also suggest Mateen was firing rapidly at groups of people in the crowded nightclub.

The unusual paths of some gunshots support eyewitnesses who said people were crouching under tables and hiding in toilet stalls.

“Some tried to run or hide under tables so you’re going to have these weird bullet paths,” he said.

50 years after the Texas sniper, a look at gun violence and mental health laws

For some people, the attack on police officers by a gunman in Dallas this summer brought to mind another attack by a sniper in Austin 50 years ago — on Aug. 1, 1966.

That’s when student Charles Whitman stuck his rifle over the edge of the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin and started shooting. Ultimately, he killed 16 people — and wounded more than 30 others.

For decades, people have struggled to figure out why. There have been theories about abuse, a brain tumor and, of course, mental illness.

Six months before Charles Whitman took aim from that tower he visited a school psychiatrist, and admitted while there that he had a violent fantasy of going to the top of the tower with a deer rifle and shooting people.

Gary Lavergne, who wrote A Sniper in the Tower, said the school psychiatrist, Dr. Maurice D. Heatly, claimed he’d had many students who recounted violent fantasies during therapy sessions.

“Today we take it a whole lot more seriously because of our history,” Lavergne said. “But back then, that kind of thing didn’t happen.”

Soon after the 1966 shooting, Heatly spoke in a news conference.

“It’s a common experience for students who come to the mental hygiene clinic to refer to the tower as the site of some desperate action,” Heatly told reporters. “They say ‘I feel like jumping off of the old tower.’ (Charles Whitman had) no psychosis symptoms at all!”

Whitman never went back to the clinic, but he did return to his violent fantasy. Lavergne said the 25-year-old former Marine and Eagle Scout was incredibly methodical as he went about killing his mother the night before the tower shootings, placing her body in bed as if she were sleeping. Then he went back home and stabbed his wife.

“By 3 o’clock in the morning, his wife and his mother are both murdered,” said Lavergne. “After that, until he goes to the campus, he spent the rest of his time polishing, getting weapons ready, buying more ammunition. All for the specific goal of going to the top of the UT tower and shooting people.”

Nearly two hours later, 16 people were dead and 32 more were wounded. Police finally killed Whitman.

Speaking to the media, John Connally, who was then governor of Texas, could barely find words.

“Of course I am concerned, disturbed, and yet somewhat at a loss to know how you prevent a maniacal act of a man who obviously goes berserk,” Connally said.

Fifty years later, when news about shootings in Dallas, in Orlando or San Bernardino hits, our reactions are much the same. We avoid those charged words, but we often assume the shooter is mentally ill, and that crimes like this could be avoided if those with serious mental illness didn’t have guns.

Which raises two questions: First, was Charles Whitman mentally ill? And second, could policies focusing on mental health prevent mass shootings?

As to the first question, Lavergne said he doesn’t think Whitman had serious mental illness. Whitman, he said, did have mental health challenges that are common — depression and anxiety. But more than anything, he was manipulative.

“He was always who he was expected to be,” Lavergne said. “In front of his father-in-law, he at times appeared to be a dutiful husband, when — in fact — he assaulted his wife, just like his daddy assaulted his mother. And he gave people the impression he was an honor student, when — in fact — when he died he had a 1.9 grade point average.”

Charles Whitman did seem to think something was wrong with him. This is an excerpt from a note he left on his wife’s body:

“I don’t really understand myself these days,” he wrote. “I’m supposed to be an average, reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately, I can’t recall when it started, I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur.”

Whitman didn’t mention he’d also been abusing amphetamines. The potential impact of those chemicals fizzled out of the public conversation as soon as a pathologist made a striking discovery in his autopsy: a brain tumor.

One doctor said the “grayish yellow mass” wasn’t a factor in explaining what Whitman had done. But a medical panel later diagnosed the mass as a glioblastoma and said it could have contributed to Whitman’s inability to control his emotions and his actions. Dr. Elizabeth Burton, a Dallas pathologist, agrees it’s possible.

“You can have headaches, you can have seizures, and you can have changes in cognition, and you can actually have personality changes,” she said.

But plenty of people have tumors and are not violent. And plenty of people have depression, anxiety and paranoia and aren’t violent.

Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and director of the division of law, ethics, and psychiatry at Columbia University, pointed out that only a tiny percent of violence — about 4 percent in the U.S. — is attributable to mental illness.

“We know that people with serious mental disorders are at somewhat elevated risk of committing violence,” Appelbaum said. “Even so, the vast majority of them never commit a violent act. And we know that people with serious mental illnesses are much more likely to end up as victims of violence rather than as perpetrators.”

But Democrats and Republicans have both touted mental health care legislation as a way of preventing mass shootings.

After a shooter killed 20 children in Newtown, President Obama called for a gun crackdown. That didn’t happen. But, Obama’s 2017 budget does include a request for $500 million for mental health services.

Appelbaum said this is a misguided approach.

“We need more funding for treatment of people with mental illness in this country,” Appelbaum said. “But to argue for that funding on false grounds — namely to try and persuade the public that it will protect them [to] have more mental health clinics — in the long run can only backfire.”

Applebaum said he believes there are alternatives. At least temporarily limiting access to guns for some people make sense, he said. In general, people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, or who are a under temporary restraining order, or who have multiple DUI convictions over a 5-year period are more likely to commit acts of violence than people with mental illness are.

This story is part of a partnership with NPR, local member stations and Kaiser Health News

Dems bring gun control to center stage

With moments of silence, shared embraces, many tears and heartfelt speeches, Democrats brought gun control into the spotlight at their convention in Philadelphia.

The Democratic National Convention is taking place at the Wells Fargo Center through July 28. Delegates assembled in the arena the first three nights heard from advocates of gun control.

They also heard from survivors of gun violence and relatives who lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and friends to gun violence in America.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who staged a filibuster earlier this summer to demand action on gun control, remembered the day he went to Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state.

President Barack Obama also remembered that day.

As did Erica Smegielski. Her mother Dawn, a teacher and principal, was murdered in the massacre at the school.

“I’m here for those lives cut short, in a school, or a movie theater, in a church, at work, in their neighborhoods or homes — because those voices should never be silenced,” she said. “I am here alone — without my mother — while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby instead of standing with American families.”

 

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talked about gun violence and what the proliferation of assault weapons means for citizens and the law enforcement officers who pledge to protect them.

“I’m here to say we need more than grieving,” Ramsey said. “To protect our law enforcement and to serve those heroes who have fallen, we need commonsense measures to reduce gun violence. Police need these commonsense measures. And a leader who will fight for them.”

Actress Angela Bassett spoke about the violence.

Director Lee Daniels spoke about the violence.

Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, two of the three survivors of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, spoke about gun violence and hate.

Sanders said, “My son’s last words were, ‘We mean you no harm.’ Tywanza. My hero. Two days later, I forgave the shooter who murdered him. Hate destroys those who harbor it, and I refused to let hate destroy me.

“Still, I have to ask: How was he able to purchase the gun he used to kill so many? After that fateful day, Hillary Clinton called on lawmakers to close the Charleston loophole. Because of that loophole, even though the shooter had an arrest record, when it didn’t surface and three days had passed, he could still buy that gun.”

Astronaut Mark Kelly spoke about his support for gun control reform, as did his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a survivor of a mass shooting.

Jesse Jackson addressed the issue.

And so did Christine Leinonen, the mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, who was killed in the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June.

She stood at the podium with Brandon Wolf and Jose Arraigada, survivors of the shooting that took 49 lives and left 53 wounded.

At times during the emotional address, they helped keep her standing.

From the stage, Leinonen could look out at delegates, some of them draped waving U.S. flags, some draped in rainbow flags and many waving signs reading, “Love trumps hate.”

Leinonen said her son supported Hillary Clinton and that’s why she decided to speak at the convention.

She told delegates that at the time of her son’s birth, she was employed as a state trooper and she remembered that hospital staff stowed her off-duty gun in a safe as a precaution.

“I didn’t argue,” Leinonen said. “I know common sense gun policies save lives.”

“Where was that common sense the day he died?” the mother said, referring to the killing of her son by a gunman armed with an assault rifle.

All this was on July 27, the third night of the convention. Others spoke about gun violence and gun control on July 26 and July 25.

Delegates and Philadelphians, who sometimes waited in long lines for seats in the upper deck of the arena, responded with standing ovations and moments of silence.

“I think there’s a stark difference on this issue between Republicans and Democrats,” said Philadelphia convention-goer Jerome Rivera. “You saw last week Republicans encouraging people to go to their convention concealing and carrying. What did they have to be afraid of at their convention? Other gun-toting Republicans.”

 

At the podium

Remarks by Gabby Giffords to the Democratic National Convention on July 27:

Hello, fellow Democrats! What a crowd! It’s great to be here today. We have important work ahead of us. Work that will determine the future of our country. Are you ready? I’m ready.

I have a passion for helping people. I always have. So does Hillary Clinton. Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous.She will fight to make our families safer. In the White House, she will stand up to the gun lobby. That’s why I’m voting for Hillary!

I know what hate and division can do to our communities. Let’s stand up for responsibility. Together we can make sure that respect, hard work, and progress win in November.

In Congress, I learned an important lesson: Strong women get things done!  Let’s work together to make Hillary our president. I’m with Her! And I know you are too.

Speaking is difficult for me. But come January, I want to say these two words: “Madam President.”

 

At the podium

Remarks by Erica Smegielski to the DNC on July 27:

I shouldn’t be here tonight. I don’t want to be here tonight.

I should be home, like so many Americans watching on TV with my mother, as we nominate the first woman to be President of the United States.

But, my mom was murdered. So I’m here.

I’m here for the mothers and daughters who are planning weddings, so that you get to watch your daughter walk down the aisle.

I’m here for those lives cut short, in a school, or a movie theater, in a church, at work, in their neighborhoods or homes — because those voices should never be silenced.

I am here alone — without my mother — while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby instead of standing with American families.

We don’t need another Charleston, or San Bernardino, or Dallas, or countless other acts of everyday gun violence that don’t make the headlines.

We don’t need our teachers or principals going to work in fear.

What we need is another mother who is willing to do what is right — whose bravery can live up in equal measure to my mom’s.

We need to elect Hillary Clinton as the 45th President of the United States of America so that no other daughter ever has to say: I would give every day I have left for just one more day with my mom.

 

 

Justice Department to review police response at the Pulse

 

The U.S. Justice Department plans a comprehensive review of the Orlando Police Department’s response to the mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse nightclub.

The review will be conducted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — known as the COPS Office.

Announcing the review, COPS director Ronald Davis said he commended Orlando Police Chief John Mina for his leadership in asking for the assessment.

“The lessons learned from this independent, objective and critical review of such a high-profile incident will benefit not only the Orlando Police Department and its community, it will also serve to provide all law enforcement critical guidance and recommendations for responding to future such incidents,” Davis said.

U.S. Attorney A Lee Bentley III, assigned to the Middle District of Florida, said, Mina’s decision to seek an independent review of the law enforcement response “is another example of his effective leadership.”

On June 12, on “Latin Night” at the LGBT nightclub in the central Florida city, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. He pledged allegiance to Islamic State terrorists in his call to police.

Some raised questions about the police department’s response, specifically whether law enforcement waited too long to storm the club after Omar Mateen’s rampage began.

Mina has said an early exchange of gunfire between Mateen and police forced the gunman into a bathroom at the club, where he held hostages. About three hours passed between those early shots and the police-killing of Mateen.

COPS will assess:

  • OPD’s preparation and response to the mass shooting.
  • Strategies and tactics used during the incident.
  • How the department is managing the aftermath of the massacre.

Similar reviews have been conducted in other cities, including Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Bernardino, California; Ferguson, Missouri; Tampa, Florida; and Pasco, Washington.

In Ferguson, an assessment followed the police-shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, and the mass demonstrations that followed Brown’s death.

The federal review led to a series of recommendations for the city of Ferguson and the police department regarding diversity, officer training and policies for responding to protests.

COPS dates back to 1995 and was established under Bill Clinton’s administration.

NRA endorses Paul Ryan for re-election

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., earned an endorsement from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund in his re-election bid.

The gun group issued a statement quoting Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA-PVF. Both men took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19 to deliver prime-time speeches.

Cox, in the endorsement statement, said, “Paul Ryan’s leadership in the fight to preserve our Second Amendment rights and hunting heritage has earned him the trust and support of the National Rifle Association.

“As a lifelong outdoorsman and avid hunter, we can trust Paul to continue to fight for the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding gun owners in Wisconsin and across the United States.”

Ryan and other Republicans held off a Democratic-driven campaign for gun reform this summer.

He also indicated that Democrats who staged a sit-in for reforms following a massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida might be punished by GOP leadership.

The NRA said Ryan received his “A+” from the pro-gun group, which is the highest rating a lawmaker can receive.

The NRA said Ryan has an “excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues” and also made a “vigorous effort to defend and promote the Second Amendment. He has strongly opposed President Obama’s numerous attempts to ban lawfully owned firearms, ammunition and magazines. Equally impressive, he has fought against the gun control agenda promoted by Obama, Hillary Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

Cox said, “The NRA is honored to endorse Paul Ryan and appreciates his steadfast support of the Second Amendment. The NRA encourages all gun-owners, hunters and sportsmen to vote re-elect Paul Ryan this November.”

Ryan actually faces a primary challenge in August — Paul Nehlen.

Democrats who filed to run for the seat include Tom Breu and Ryan Solen.

Gun shop raffling AR-15 rifle to benefit Orlando victims

A suburban Chicago gun shop is raffling a semi-automatic weapon to benefit victims of the nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Second Amendment Sports in McHenry, Illinois, is selling tickets for $5 to win an AR-15 rifle similar to the one gunman Omar Mateen used when he opened fire in a gay nightclub June 12, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“We wanted to do something for the loss of lives and injuries that happened to people in Orlando,” store owner Bert Irslinger Jr. told the Chicago Tribune.

The store isn’t making a political statement, owners said.

“I understand that there are different opinions out there,” said Vic Santi, store marketing director. “We don’t look at this as a gun issue. We look at this as a terrorism issue.”

Store owners plan to announce the winner on July 31, when they open a new gun range and larger showroom.

Kathleen Larimer’s son, 27-year-old John Larimer, a U.S. Navy sailor from Crystal Lake, Illinois, was one of 12 people killed in the 2012 shootings in a Colorado movie theater. Larimer called the raffle an inappropriate publicity ploy.

“Guns are not toys,” Larimer said. “They should be taken seriously. I’m not saying they should be illegal, but raffling off a gun is not taking its killing power seriously.”

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence in Chicago, said the raffle is offensive.

“I’m glad people are trying to raise money,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s the most appropriate way to do that. These guns are weapons of war, meant to kill large numbers of people in a short time, which is what happened in Orlando. I find it very distasteful and offensive.”

The gun shop said proceeds plus its own donation of $2,000 will go to the OneOrlando Fund run by the nonprofit group Strengthen Orlando Inc.

 

Dispatcher: ‘Gunshots closer, multiple people screaming’

Orlando police dispatchers heard repeated gunfire, screaming and moaning from patrons of the Pulse nightclub who called to report that gunman Omar Mateen was opening fire inside the club, according to written logs released on June 28.

The first call of “shots fired” came in at 2:02 a.m. and the caller reported “multiple people down.”

One caller said Mateen had gone upstairs where six people were hiding. Dispatchers heard up to 30 gunshots in the background at another point as callers screamed and moaned.

“My caller is no longer responding, just an open line with moaning,” one dispatcher said in the report.

Another dispatcher wrote, “Hearing gunshots closer, multiple people screaming.”

A caller described Mateen as wearing a gray shirt and brown pants.

Mateen opened fire at the club on June 12, leaving 49 patrons dead and 53 injured in the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. In calls with the police after the shooting began, Mateen pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, declared himself to be an Islamic soldier and demanded that the United States stop bombing Syria and Iraq, the FBI said.

“Saying he pledges to the Islamic State,” a dispatcher wrote at 2:40 a.m.

The report recounted where patrons hid in the nightclub: in an office upstairs, in a closet, in a dressing room and behind a stage. Ten people were hiding in the handicap stall of a bathroom. One caller described patrons using their hands to stop the bleeding of shooting victims.

At several points, callers relayed misinformation to the dispatchers. One caller said there was a second gunman and another thought Mateen had a bomb.

Mateen “is saying he is a terrorist … and has several bombs strapped to him in the downstairs female restroom,” the dispatcher notes said.

According to the time-stamped calls, nine people were evacuated through the air conditioner window of a dressing room at 4:21 a.m. At 5:07 a.m., dispatchers heard an explosion as SWAT team members tried to knock down a bathroom wall to free 15 hostages. At 5:17 a.m., dispatchers heard: “Bad guy down.”

Emails, inspection reports and texts released by the Orlando Fire Department on June 28 suggested that one of the exits at the Pulse nightclub wasn’t operable weeks before the massacre, but a fire department spokeswoman and an attorney for the club both said that wasn’t true.

The last fire inspection at Pulse was conducted in late May when the inoperable exit door was discovered, according to an email exchange between Orlando Fire Marshall Tammy Hughes and Fire Chief Roderick Williams. A follow-up visit was planned but hadn’t been assigned so it wasn’t known if the problem was fixed, the emails said.

But Pulse attorney Gus Benitez said that none of the six exits at the gay nightclub was blocked during the inspection. The inspector only found that a light bulb in an exit sign needed to be replaced and a fire extinguisher needed to be hung on wall. Both items were corrected, Benitez said in a statement.

Fire department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni backed up Benitez’s contention. She said the exit door was deemed inoperable because of the light bulb problem in the exit sign.

Pulse had twice the number of exits needed to accommodate its maximum occupancy of 300 patrons, according to the emails and texts.

The emails and dispatcher notes were released on the same day that a legal tug-of-war broke out over which court should be the venue for determining whether 911 tapes from the Pulse nightclub shootings can be made public.

Nearly two dozen news media organizations — including The Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times — contend city officials are wrongly withholding recordings of 911 calls and communications between gunman Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police after a standoff in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

City officials claim the recordings are exempt under Florida law and are part of an FBI investigation.

A hearing had been scheduled this week in a Florida courtroom in Orlando but it was abruptly canceled after the U.S. Department of Justice was added to the case and Justice officials asked for it to be transferred to federal court.

Attorneys for the news media organizations said they will fight to keep the case in state court.

Pride processions begin with portraits of Pulse victims

Rainbow flags were held high along with portraits of the dead as thousands of people marched on June 26 in gay Pride parades tempered by this month’s massacre at a Florida gay nightclub.

Crowds of onlookers stood a dozen deep along Fifth Avenue for New York City’s parade. Some spectators held up orange “We are Orlando” signs, and indications of increased security were everywhere, with armed officers standing by. An announcer introducing state officials and guests also shouted out, “Love is love! New York is Orlando!” in memory of the 49 people killed in Florida. Elected officials turned out in force, as did presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

She walked several blocks of the march, joining New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton for a brief appearance at Stonewall Inn, the bar where a 1969 police raid helped catalyze the gay rights movement.

On June 26, with her Twitter handle appearing in rainbow colors, Clinton wrote: “One year ago, love triumphed in our highest court. Yet LGBT Americans still face too many barriers. Let’s keep marching until they don’t. -H”

Authorities had expected a larger-than-usual crowd, and 15-year-old Chelsea Restrepo, of Staten Island, was among the onlookers. She had brushed aside her father’s concerns about security to attend the march for the first time.

“What happened in Orlando made me want to come more,” said Restrepo, swathed in a multicolored scarf. She said she wanted to show her support.

Kenny Hillman, a 39-year-old Brooklyn filmmaker, was ready to roar his Triumph Bonneville down Fifth Avenue.

The transgender New Yorker said he hadn’t planned to come to the march.

“For me, I wasn’t going to ride because I have 17-month-old twins at home. But then Orlando happened, and seeing so many of my friends shrink in fear made me realize that coming here was more important,” said Hillman, wearing an anti-assault guns T-shirt.

New York’s parade was one of several being held Sunday across the country, along with San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis. They came two weeks after the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

In Chicago, 49 marchers at the head of the parade each held aloft a poster-sized photograph of a different Orlando victim as the procession wound through the city. Above each photo were the words, “Never forget.”

Despite the somber start, parade-goers seemed as enthusiastic as ever once marchers and floats began moving, cheering and dancing along the route. Many participants said the tributes to the dead in Orlando didn’t dampen the energy and fun associated with the pride parade.

“It is another on a list of brutalities over the years (against gays),” said Joe Conklin, 74, of Chicago, as he sat on the back of a float waiting for the OK to move out. “We’re aware of Orlando but not overwhelmed by it.”

It was a similar feeling in San Francisco, where men in glittery white wings walked on stilts and women in leather pants rode motorcycles as the parade moved along.

Richel Desamparado, of Oakland, California, was marching and carrying a photo of Orlando victim Stanley Almodovar. She said she felt the need to remind people the fight for equality is not over. “A lot of my gay friends and relatives are still being shunned away by their families and communities,” said Desamparado, 31. “People need to remember we’re still fighting for equality.”

Sunday’s parades did have a new milestone to mark: President Barack Obama on Friday designated the site around New York City’s Stonewall Inn as the first national monument to gay rights.

Security was ramped up at the events. New York police deployed roving counterterrorism units and used bomb-sniffing dogs, rooftop observation posts, police helicopters and thousands of officers to provide extra layers of security at Sunday’s parade. Thousands of uniformed officers lined the route, supplemented by plainclothes officers in the crowd.

San Francisco spectators faced metal detectors for the first time, and more police than usual were keeping watch. Some participants didn’t welcoming the stepped-up security: Two honorary grand marshals and a health clinic that serves sex workers withdrew Friday from the parade to protest the heavy police presence.

Chicago police put 200 more officers than usual on duty for the city’s pride parade Sunday. Organizers nearly doubled their corps of private security agents, to 160.

At a gay street parade in Turkey, a prominent German lawmaker and outspoken gay rights advocate was temporarily detained Sunday when he wanted to speak publicly at the end of Pride Week. Turkish police have repeatedly in recent days prevented activists from participating in LGBT rallies.

For all the security and solemnity, some spectators at pride parades this month have made a point of making merry.

“We had fun. That is what gay people do,” comedian Guy Branum wrote in a New York Times essay after attending the West Hollywood parade. “Our answer to loss and indignity, it seems, is to give a party, have a parade and celebrate bits of happiness.”

Mourning after the massacre, forging ahead on pro-LGBT policy

It has been more than a week since the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. It is a surreal feeling, to mourn so deeply for individuals who I did not meet.

I am still reeling, like so many of us are, at the loss of life. Fifty, including the shooter.

They say some were straight allies.

They say the murderer may have been gay.

But we know the majority of the victims were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa. — PHOTO: Courtesy
State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa. — PHOTO: Courtesy

They were from diverse backgrounds: black, brown, white, but we know the majority of them hailed from the Latino community. In fact, it was “Latin night” at Pulse and many went to dance salsa, merengue and bachata. They went to laugh and drink and be themselves. They were there to live their lives authentically.

I remember going to gay bars like Fannies, Dish, MONA’s and La Cage as a young twentysomething in Milwaukee. I wasn’t out anywhere but these safe havens. I had my first girlfriend at 22 years old. At Fannies, we could kiss, embrace and slow dance. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that in any other public space, at that time.

My heart sinks when I think about the young victims who may not have yet come out to their families. I know the pain of not allowing my partner to hold my hand at the movie theater. I know the sting of having to avoid the question when asked if I was gay. And I’m angered to think of the hateful, vengeful, disturbed individual who stole that freedom from them because there is nothing like the liberty I have felt as an out, openly bisexual member of the LGBT community.

Although many elected leaders, spoke to the need for gun reform laws to be passed in the hours after the Orlando tragedy, I have to be honest and admit that the first thing to cross my mind was not gun reform. I support the need for gun reform, but my first thoughts went to LGBT policy, pro-equality and the anti-LGBT equality legislation that has emerged with a vengeance this legislative session.

I thought immediately of the anti-LGBT “bathroom bills” that we have seen introduced in state legislatures across the country. In Wisconsin, state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and his Republican caucus have been passionately advocating for this bigotry to become law.

Of course, I also thought of the pragmatic LGBT equality legislation that I introduced this session, along with my fellow out Democrats, state Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D- Beloit, and state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D- Milwaukee, as well as many of our straight Democratic allies.

AB 816 would “clean up” the statutes to reflect the legality of same-sex marriage. Passage of this bill is needed, especially by same-sex couples who are trying to adopt their child, but 2nd parent adoption continues to be an issue for these families since our statutes have not been corrected to reflect marriage equality.

SJR 46 would finally remove the hateful language banning marriage equality from our state’s constitution. Our constitution was amended in 2006 and language was added banning same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships. Despite a huge victory in 2014 on marriage equality via the Supreme Court, this discriminatory language still sits in our state constitution, a stain on our history that many feel should be wiped clean.

AJR 117, a symbolic resolution, would recognize June as LGBT Pride month. I have worked, since coming out publicly in 2012, to get this symbolic resolution passed in the state legislature, but to no avail.

This session, after Wisconsin elected the first openly-gay Republican, state Rep. Todd Novak, Dodgeville), I was certain we would finally get this small, but important piece of legislation passed.

In the end, Novak couldn’t be counted on to support even this symbolic legislation and watched as his Republican colleagues killed not just this bill, but every other LGBT equality bill.

Still, Novak teaches us a good lesson: That it is not enough to be out in elected office.

Openly-LGBT elected officials must represent our community pro-actively by introducing LGBT equality bills and fighting hard against anti-transgender, anti-LGBT bills that we are seeing spring up across the country.

For my part, I plan to continue my work with my Democratic colleagues to push forward pro-LGBT equality policy. Passage of a state-level Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as policies addressing youth homelessness, suicide prevention, and health & wellness are at the top of my list as I move forward — an out, proud, openly-LGBT elected Democrat.

I know that none of this will bring back the 49 brothers and sisters we lost on Sunday morning, but my hope is that this work will help to combat the scourge of homophobia and help my fellow LGBT Wisconsinites to live their lives authentically, happily and safely. As my friend and fellow LGBT leader, Brian J., says so eloquently, “to not only survive, but thrive!”

Democratic State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa represents the 8th Assembly District in Wisconsin.