Florida governor vetoes mental health funding for survivors of the horrific Pulse massacre

Ron DeSantis

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has vetoed funding for programmes that would provide vital mental health counselling for survivors of the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre.

The Republican lawmaker on Wednesday (2 June) vetoed $900,000 in funding for state programmes that serve the LGBT+ community. These cuts included $150,000 that would go to the Orlando United Assistance Center at LGBT+ Center Orlando, which directly helps those affected by the Pulse tragedy.

DeSantis also vetoed $750,000 in funding to the Zebra Coalition – a nonprofit network of organisations that assists LGBT+ youth facing homelessness, bullying and abuse.

The budget cuts shortly before the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse – a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In the early morning hours of 12 June 2016, an armed man stormed into the club and killed 49 people and wounded 53 more before he was eventually shot in a standoff with police. That night was the deadliest mass shooting by single gunman in US history until the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.

DeSantis’ budget cuts also came a day after he signed into law a measure that bans trans athletes from participating in girls’ school sports in Florida.

Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for governor DeSantis, said in a statement to The Hill that the amended state budget does include over $212 million in community mental health services funding.

“Governor DeSantis has been a champion on mental health since day one – and he absolutely supports every Floridian who has experienced such horrific trauma, which has a lifelong impact on survivors,” Pushaw said. “To this end, the new budget ensures that Floridians in need – including LGBTQ Floridians– will continue to have access to vital support and the mental health resources they need to survive and thrive.”

However, Brandon Wolf, media relations manager for Equality Florida and survivor of the Pulse massacre, slammed governor Ron DeSantis for his budget cuts to vital LGBT+ services in a press release. Wolf said: “Let’s be clear about what this is: governor DeSantis has declared war on Florida‘s LGBTQ community.

“Before the 2019 remembrance ceremony, governor DeSantis stood on hallowed ground, steps from where I escaped the building in 2016 and promised me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting.

“Today, almost two years later to date, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget.”

Dr George A Wallace, executive director of the LGBT+ Center Orlando, said he is “disappointed once again” that governor Ron DeSantis has vetoed funding for the LGBT+ community. Dr Wallace explained some of central Florida’s “most vulnerable citizens” rely on the centre to “provide lifesaving services” including critical mental health counselling.

“We now must pivot to find funding to continue serving Orlando’s LGBTQ community at the same level as we had planned for the upcoming fiscal year,” Dr Wallace said. “Yesterday marked the first day of Pride Month, and governor DeSantis has once again proved that he is one of the most homophobic and transphobic governors in the United States.”