HRC Foundation Honors Pulse Victims at 2018 Time to THRIVE Conference

by Milagros Chirinos

Speakers also pay tribute to victims of gun violence at high school in Parkland, Florida

HRC Foundation’s fifth annual Time to THRIVE Conference for youth-serving professionals got underway today in Orlando, and the opening event included a spoken and video tribute to the memory the 49 people -- most of them LGBTQ and Latinx --  killed in the senseless act of gun violence at Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016.

Speakers also honored the 17 innocent people who died this week in the horrific gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The following are excerpts of today’s speeches, as prepared, honoring the memory of the Pulse victims and their survivors:

“Their voices still inspire me today as I remind my classmates that ‘Nuestra fuerza es doble cuando estamos juntos.’” (Our strength is double when we are together.)
- Zimar Batista, HRC Youth Ambassador

“This week, Floridians are reeling from yet another tragedy in our state. The news coming out of Parkland is all too familiar. Two years ago, we were feeling the same grief.

For a young queer Latinx folks like me, Pulse’s Latin Nights were pure joy. You could look around and see people who looked like you, who spoke your language, who dressed like you. It was a night you felt free -- and safe. All of that changed on June 12. But that night also sparked in so many a passion and a drive to do justice for the victims we’d lost and those who survived.”
- Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, (D-Orlando)

“My son Christopher, his boyfriend Juan and 47 others were murdered at the Pulse nightclub. Christopher lost his voice that night, but I didn’t lose mine...The news coming out of Parkland this week have been difficult for me to process. I know too well what many parents, students, and loved ones are going through. It’s a type of pain and anguish no parent should ever have to experience. And it’s for that reason that I will continue to fight to make sure that no parent ever has to again.”
- Christine Leinonen, LGBTQ advocate for gun safety & LGBTQ equality, and mother of Pulse victim Christopher "Drew" Leinonen

“Drew and Juan were two people madly in love. Not gay love. Not biracial love. Just love. And it was in their story that I finally found my message. The reason for getting out of bed, tossing off the covers, and stepping onto the front line… It hurts so much to see the coverage out of Parkland this week. These are KIDS. No parent ever feel  afraid to send their kids to school. No LGBTQ young person should be afraid to enjoy an evening out with their friends. No friend, partner, or parent should ever mourn the loss of a loved one like this.”
- Brandon Wolf, Vice President of Dru Project and best friend of “Drew” and his boyfriend Juan, who also was killed in the Pulse attack

Yesterday, Wolf took over HRC’s Twitter to remember friends lost at Pulse, to call for sensible gun safety measures and to urge voters to elect leaders who will take action on this deadly epidemic -- and aren’t in the pocket of the NRA. He tweeted: “People are dying. Kids are dying. How many more lives lost, families broken, dreams shattered can we take? What will it take for lawmakers to act? Lives are on the line. I would know.”

Last year, HRC unveiled a monumental art installation at its Washington, D.C., headquarters to mark Pride Month and honor the victims on the one-year mark of the deadly attack in Orlando. Our hearts remain with the survivors, families and friends of the 49 people whose lives were taken that day.

In the wake of the recent high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, HRC renewed its call for common-sense gun safety measures and policies to address the epidemic of senseless violence across the country. Time to THRIVE is an opportunity to raise the voices of the community against hate and highlight the importance of safe and inclusive environments for all LGBTQ people and youth in the U.S. and around the globe.