ORLANDO, FL - Equality Florida, faith leaders, and family members of victims of the Pulse shooting were joined by nearly 200 local progressives today outside the "Rediscovering God in America" conference in Orlando to call out Marco Rubio and Donald Trump.
Exactly two months after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, presidential candidate Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio are the headline attendees for a conference at the Orange County Convention Center, just miles from where the shooting that shook Orlando and the nation took place.
The Aug 11-12th conference is hosted by the American Renewal Project, whose leader has likened gay people to Nazis and called on Christians to "risk martyrdom" to block gays from marrying. The event is sponsored by the American Family Association and features the Liberty Counsel, both notoriously anti-LGBT organizations dubbed hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition to their long history opposing adoption, marriage, and even basic legal protections for LGBT people, Liberty Counsel's president drew widespread condemnation for threatening to bring a Glock .45 to the bathroom in Target in case she encountered a transgender person.
At today's rally organized by Equality Florida, and joined by community partners and victims of the Pulse shooting, the community came out to peacefully and forcefully call out these two leading national Republican politicians for their reprehensible anti-LGBT message propagated by their campaigns. Participants also called for putting the needs of the community first by passing sensible gun violence prevention measures and fully inclusive LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies.
"For Donald Trump and Marco Rubio to support and appear at this gathering, so close in time and distance to an event that has forever changed our community, is nothing short of offensive and heartless. That is why we came together as a community today, to call for an end to hatred and bigotry of all kinds," said Hannah Willard with Equality Florida.
"Clearly, Trump and Rubio are trying to downplay their own record and distance themselves from the hateful rhetoric of those behind this event. But we are not going to allow them to demean and dehumanize LGBTQ people and our families, least of all in our city that is still mourning the horrific result of homophobia and senseless gun violence."
One of the most moving moments of the press conference was when Celia Ruiz, the sister of one of the Pulse victims, spoke. "I wonder if Marco Rubio or Donald Trump have ever lost a family member to a hate crime. I wonder if they know the pain that comes from losing a family member in this manner. If they knew this pain… I doubt Marco Rubio and Donald Trump would be promoting this conference, promoting intolerance and hate." Ruiz went on to say, "Shame on you, Marco Rubio.
"As faith leaders, we understand the importance of moral leadership: treating others as we want to be treated, setting an example for our children, and speaking out for the marginalized," said Reverend Jim Coffin, Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. "We must replace bigotry with decency in our politics, not endorse a candidate who rejects these values."
"While most Americans were shocked and horrified by the Pulse Nightclub shootings, Marco Rubio looked at it and saw an opportunity to reenter the U.S. Senate race and continue a political career centered around ignoring the needs of his constituents and denying LGBTQ people and their families equal treatment," said Gina Duncan, Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida. "Instead of exploiting the tragedy to return to a job he doesn't even care enough to show up to do, he should be doing his job in the wake of this tragedy to mobilize his colleagues to ensure a tragedy like this can never happen again."
Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor who lost close friends in the massacre just two months ago, was unable to attend the press conference as planned and asked that a statement be read on his behalf, which closed with a hopeful sentiment, "While our politicians cuddle up with the NRA and fall at the feet of violent bigots, we remain steadfast and strong. Because love ALWAYS trumps hate."
"Donald Trump has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality, equal protections for all workers and even said that if elected president he would appoint judges that would take our country backwards by looking for ways to legally strip rights and progress made over the past few years. We need political leaders who stand for equality and justice for those who do not look or love like they do, and we demand the passage of common sense gun violence prevention measures to keep our communities safe," said Carlos Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida.
"We, as a community, came out today to make clear that we do not agree with the hate that is being promoted and even glorified in this conference," said Micaela Geyer, a protester attending the event, and a member of the LGBTQ community in Orlando. "Orlando is a place where love trumps hate, where we don't build walls around those who are different from us and where we believe that the diversity of where we come from, who we love and how we pray is what makes us strong."
See the full appendix exposing anti-LGBT extremists attending the conference:www.eqfl.org/forthe49/presskit .