Pulse Survivor Questions Timing of Ron DeSantis Vetoes, Why LGBTQ Isn't Represented on Staff: 'It's Shameful'

Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, slammed Governor Ron DeSantis for vetoing two bills aimed at providing mental health services for victims of the attack and helping house homeless LGBTQ youth.

"It's embarrassing," Wolf told Newsweek, speaking of DeSantis' actions. "It's shameful and it's disgraceful that the governor would, again, put a target on people who so desperately needs support in our society—not to be demonized—especially during Pride Month."

On Wednesday, DeSantis slashed $900,000 in funding for programs that serve Central Florida's LGBTQ community, including $150,000 for a program that directly serves those affected by the Pulse tragedy.

Following the vetoes, Wolf tweeted a photo of himself with DeSantis, whom he met at the third-anniversary remembrance ceremony, where the governor pledged to secure $1 million for a memorial.

"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," Wolf wrote in a caption for the picture. "Today, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget."

Wolf said it was "disappointing" that DeSantis "turned around and decided that our mental health wasn't worth preserving."

"We have to be clear that this is part of a broader strategy," he said. "Governor DeSantis has a desperate desire to be president of the United States. And he has been seeking the sort of things that he's going to create an image around. It appears that he's decided he's going to build that political ambition on the backs of LGBTQ people."

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.

Today, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget. pic.twitter.com/huW8NJbVlP

— Brandon Wolf (@bjoewolf) June 2, 2021

DeSantis' vetoes come weeks before the fifth anniversary of the June 12, 2016, mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, that left 49 people dead and 53 injured.

Wolf said that if the governor's office is preparing to put out a statement on the anniversary, they can "save it."

"I don't want to hear thoughts and prayers. I don't want to hear 'we're with you' on June 12, because we needed you with us on June 2, when you were signing that budget," he said.

"We needed you this week. We don't need you to show up on June 12 waving rainbow flags pretending like you care about this community," Wolf continued. "Actions speak louder than words, and your actions are deafening right now."

The timing of the vetoes also coincides with the second day of National Pride Month, which some advocates have said sends an intentional message to Florida's LGBTQ community.

"Timing matters. What messages are LGBT people meant to receive from Governor DeSantis other than that this is an insult to them?" state Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is openly gay, told WKMG-TV. "The Orlando community right now is bracing for the five-year remembrance, and for Governor DeSantis to veto funding for Pulse survivors and families is just cruel."

State Representative Anna Eskamani, whose district includes Pulse, said, "The governor is a homophobe and a transphobe who doesn't actually care about Floridians who are different from him."

Ron DeSantis Veto LGBTQ Pulse Shooting Survivor
Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference on May 28 in Lakeland, Florida. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images

"If it's an accident that the governor picked this moment to assault the LGBTQ community from every angle, then you have to ask: Why doesn't he better have more LGBTQ people in his office to throw a flag?" Wolf said. "And if it's not an accident, it's absolutely intentional, and it comes at the most vulnerable moment, for those of us who are already vulnerable in society."

He added that June 1 was his best friend's birthday—a friend he went to Pulse with that night in 2016 but never came home with.

"I was supposed to be reflecting on that day. I was supposed to be spending time thinking about all the progress we've made over the last five years. But instead I have spent this entire week pushing back on the bigotry homophobia and transphobia of this governor," he said.

On Wednesday, DeSantis also vetoed $750,000 targeted to the Zebra Coalition, a group of 52 organizations in Central Florida that work to reduce and prevent homelessness among LGBTQ youth. The funding would have helped renovate housing for 35 LGBTQ youths aged 13 to 24 and would have amounted to half of the coalition's budget.

Wolf said the LGBTQ community will continue to step up and financially support one another in the wake of the vetoes, but he urged advocates to go back and request state and federal funds that protect and support them.

"We spent an entire legislative session hearing about how transgender kids on a middle school soccer field are the most imminent crisis in Florida, but we didn't do anything to fix our broken unemployment system," he said.

"We have to have an honest conversation about whether we actually want to make life better for Floridians, and if we are going to do that. Who are the right elected officials to get the job done? Because it's clear that it's not Governor DeSantis, and it's certainly not leaders in the Legislature," he added.

The governor came under fire on Tuesday, the first day of National Pride Month, after he signed a bill into law that would ban transgender athletes from playing girls' or women's sports.