It’s been four years since the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub massacre, when 49 people were gunned down while partying the night away at the beloved Orlando club.
The somber anniversary of the event — which was, at the time, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history (until the 2017 open-fire attack on Las Vegas concertgoers) — is being met with planned memorials and social media posts, as well as remembrances from survivors, with a continued commitment to activism during what is now a permanent dark spot in LGBTQ Pride Month.
On the eve of 4 years since Pulse, amidst a national confrontation with racism & hate, we are launching the largest election program by a state equality org in history. Our task: mobilize 500,000 FL voters.
Honoring them with our voices AND our votes.https://t.co/2FmaHLWPmO
— Brandon Wolf (@bjoewolf) June 11, 2020
Brandon Wolf, who survived the nightclub shooting but lost his best friends, partners Drew Leinonen and Juan Guerroro, in the attack, has become a full-time activist in the years since — giving up his job as a retail manager to work for Equality Florida and also focus his efforts on the foundation launched in honor of his friends, the Dru Project.
“Pulse changed everything,” he tells Yahoo Life.
This week, he announced both the launch of a major voter outreach project and a new milestone in awarding over $50,000 in college scholarships through the Dru Project.
Out of darkness comes hope. We launched @thedruproject just weeks after Pulse. Now, we’ve given over $50k in college scholarships in honor of Drew.
Check out a few familiar faces congratulating this year’s recipients! pic.twitter.com/dlGMFeb0i1
— Brandon Wolf (@bjoewolf) June 12, 2020
“I would be lying if I told you that the last four years have not been extra challenging, that every day is hard, that every day is painful, that June 12 is the hardest day of the year, and that I miss my friends a lot,” Wolf, who testified before Congress last year in favor of stricter gun laws, shares. What keeps him hopeful is the promise he made at Leinonen’s funeral, when he was a pallbearer.
“I remember holding onto to the sides of the casket so tightly I thought my fingers would break off. I didn’t want to let go until I found the right words to say goodbye,” he recalls. “I whispered, ‘I’m never going to stop fighting for a world that you would be proud of.’ The idea that the legacy of my best friend can be the world that deserves him is what keeps me going.”
Wolf understands that many have trouble remaining positive when goals have not been achieved, noting, “I hear a lot of frustration… over gun violence prevention, LGBTQ civil rights… systemic racism,” he says. “I take solace in the fact that we are making progress. And I look to 2018 as example.” That’s when the Parkland shooting occurred, not all that far from Pulse, and Wolf formed a bond with the young activists who became mobilized to create the March for Our Lives and an ongoing movement as a result of the tragedy.
“That group has totally changed the national dialogue,” he says.
Those young activists were among the many others, from George Takei and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Pulse Orlando itself, that remembered the Pulse shooting on social media.
49 lives lost, many of them Latinx lives.
It’s been 4 years since the shooting at Pulse, a LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando. Deadly gun violence and hate has no place in America. We fight for Pulse, we fight for all the victims lost to hatred in our country. pic.twitter.com/A7uIjVwP4j
— March For Our Lives (@AMarch4OurLives) June 12, 2020
“I remember the laughs at Pulse. I remember the music. I remember the people dancing. But most of all I remember the love. The sense of belonging and total acceptance that seemed to instantly envelop everyone who walked in the door.” - Kelly Lafferman, Board Secretary pic.twitter.com/IeiICP4mDh
— Pulse Orlando (@pulseorlando) June 12, 2020
Four years ago today, in the early morning, a terrorist murdered 49 people, mostly LGBTQ people of color, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando -- one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
That evening, @Lin_Manuel gave this speech at the Tony Awards.
"Love is love is love..." pic.twitter.com/RVCNAv8OZk
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) June 12, 2020
never forget. it's been 4 years since the mass shooting at the pulse nightclub in Orlando that took 49 innocent lives just because they were part of the lgbtq+ community. spread love, not hate! pic.twitter.com/85DKxXgbBY
— bel⁷ (@btsamazed) June 12, 2020
Four years ago today, 49 innocent people were murdered at the #Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Today and every day New York will honor their memory by taking action against hate in all its forms. pic.twitter.com/CW7qNiyuXO
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) June 12, 2020
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) June 12, 2020
Four years ago, 49 people lost their lives in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It is a national disgrace that Mitch McConnell’s Senate has not allowed a vote on commonsense gun safety legislation. My thoughts are with those who are remembering their loved ones today. https://t.co/ObqB2FUuWL
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 12, 2020
June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Please just take a moment to remember these people who died due to the hatred of others. #PulseNightclub #Pulseorlando pic.twitter.com/ciqd0FixdY
— Victor Garcia (@Victor_Dior115) June 12, 2020
Some, including Gays Against Guns in New York City and Pulse Orlando, announced live streaming vigils that will take place on Friday evening.
— Gays Against Guns (@GAGnoguns) June 12, 2020
While we're not physically together this year for the Annual Remembrance, we hope the ceremony brings you a sense of love and unity. Watch it at 7 p.m. EST on Facebook https://t.co/KIWqdqogu4 or YouTube https://t.co/fBwq9q415z pic.twitter.com/0Lvt91eF7I
— Pulse Orlando (@pulseorlando) June 12, 2020
Wolf says that the ways in which he marks this day each year are to find both comfort and purpose.
“I always start June 12th by eating ice cream for breakfast,” he says, noting that it’s been a source of comfort ever since he lost his mother at a young age. He also chills a bottle of champagne and drinks some, as he would have with his friends, and takes some time to reflect in his grief.
“I look at old pictures and I remember why I continue to do this work,” he says. “On days like today, it feels difficult to keep moving forward. But when I reflect on the ones I love… I know I can’t quit.”
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