The Florida governor’s office created two versions of a June proclamation marking the three-year remembrance of the Pulse night club shooting, according to documents obtained this week by the Tampa Bay Times. One proclamation acknowledged the tragedy’s LGBTQ and Hispanic victims. The other did not.
Gov. Ron DeSantis ultimately signed the one that did not.
DeSantis later said that was a mistake and he issued a corrected proclamation recognizing the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities. His office blamed staff error. But the previously unreported documents indicate that someone inside the governor’s office had created two drastically different options for DeSantis to send out.
The one draft version declared: “The State of Florida will not tolerate hatred towards the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities and we will stand boldly with Orlando and the Central Florida community against terrorism and hate.”
That one initially did not make it out of the governor’s office. Instead, DeSantis signed one that omitted the reference to the victims’ sexuality and ethnicity. It also removed the word “hate.”
That proclamation stated: “The entire state of Florida has come together to stand boldly with Orlando and the Central Florida community against terrorism.”
The records don’t make clear why two versions were written or who authored them, nor do they indicate DeSantis knew an alternative draft existed. DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré blamed confusion, saying “the process was circumvented by a staff member” who shouldn’t have been involved. A month before the proclamation was issued, emails showed uncertainty between the governor’s advance team and his legal staff over who would oversee the remembrance.
Proclamations by the governor commemorate days of remembrance and sometimes ask that flags be flown at half-staff.
“Normally, the communications department works with citizen services to prepare proclamations, correspondence and statements on behalf of the governor,” Ferré said, referring to two separate arms in the governor’s office that issue public statements. “This did not occur in the case of the Pulse proclamation.”
After the story published Friday morning, Ferré added that the governor’s office was unaware a second draft proclamation existed.
“Regrettably, the only proclamation that was presented for 2019 did not include the important references to the LGBTQ and Hispanic victims of this tragic attack,” she said.
On Twitter, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, suggested that the mistake in the governor’s office occurred because of “a disregard for #LGBTQ people and #latinx communities. Likely because these aren’t constituencies that our governor thinks about often.”
Eskamani encouraged DeSantis to support legislation that guarantees protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace. The bill gained more traction this past year than ever before but still failed to pass.
Under Republican dominance in Tallahassee, LGBTQ communities have been frustrated by lack of progress on equality and recognition in the country’s third most populous state.
Even after a gunman killed 49 people on June 12, 2016, inside Pulse and the state rallied around the Orlando community, survivors have said they are overlooked because of the sexual orientation and ethnicity of victims. Pulse was a gay night club and occurred on the bar’s Latin night. A majority of the victims were LGBTQ and Hispanic.
It took three years for lawmakers to approve money for a Pulse memorial. The Legislature set aside $1 million for a Parkland memorial just weeks after a gunman killed 17 people last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Former Gov. Rick Scott did not wear a Pulse ribbon for two years, and advocates say he shirked a promise to sign an LGBTQ protection order after promising he would.
DeSantis’ first executive order was an anti-discrimination pledge for state workers that omitted protections based on sexual orientation. After receiving pushback, his office met with Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an openly gay lawmaker from Orlando, who said they were working together “in good faith.”
“This all continues to be very disappointing and demonstrates no new leadership on LGBTQ equality,” Eskamani tweeted.
The drafts of the proclamation were obtained by the Times in a records request with the DeSantis’ office. The records provided also included previously undisclosed draft versions of Scott’s Pulse remembrances.
In 2017 and 2018, Scott’s office also created versions that did not mention the LGBTQ community, the records show. The one Scott signed in 2018 ultimately acknowledged “the lasting impact [the shooting] has had on our state and communities, including Florida’s LGBTQ community.”
The backlash was immediate when DeSantis issued a proclamation on the eve of the June 12 remembrance without that acknowledgment. Pulse victims and LGBTQ advocates criticized DeSantis for the omission. Embarrassing national headlines for the young Republican governor circulated online.
By midday, DeSantis had issued a corrected proclamation that included a reference to the affected communities. He visited the Pulse memorial in Orlando later that day.
“Once Gov. DeSantis learned of this staff error, he immediately ordered a corrected version of the proclamation be re-issued to include the reference to the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities,” Ferré said, “which had been included in his statement on Twitter earlier that morning.”