Pulse nightclub shooting survivor warns anti-LGBTQ+ bills are fuelling hate: ‘We are scared’

Florida Governor Ron DiSantis

A survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida has said LGBTQ+ residents are “scared” of rising homophobic hate. 

Florida drag performer Venus Envy, who survived the LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting which claimed the lives of 49 people, said that Florida’s slate of anti-LGBTQ+ measures are fuelling “harmful rhetoric”.

Republican governor Ron DeSantis has moved to strip a hotel of its liquor license after it hosted a drag show which allowed under-18s to attend, and has suggested he could have parents who allow children to attend drag shows could be investigated for child abuse.

It follows the state banning gender-affirming care for trans young people in the state, its infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

“On the surface level, these pieces of legislation limit job opportunities for drag entertainers, reduce resources for transgender individuals, and prevent students … from being educated about LGBTQ+ topics,” Venus Envy told Business Insider.

“All of these outcomes are harmful in their own right, but the greater impact of these bills is already being seen in the increase of hatred toward the LGBTQ+ community and the harmful rhetoric that drag queens are predatory.”

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Venus Envy added that the number of LGBTQ+ venues in Orlando has decreased since the Pulse massacre, and that if the Hyatt’s liquor license is revoked, it could cause other venues to stop their drag performances for fear of backlash.

“The damage has already been done … not just in terms of limiting opportunities for drag entertainers, but by demonising the art of drag as a whole,” she said. 

“We, as a community, are scared. Not just for our jobs, but for our right to exist as queer and trans people.

“Being a Pulse survivor, there’s always a sense of fear in the back of my mind when I’m performing, but I can’t let that stop me … Drag queens are pillars in queer communities. We need to be visible and we need to speak out.”

A child in a rainbow T-shirt holds a sign reading "It's okay to say gay"
A child protests as Florida lawmakers introduce anti-LGBTQ+ bill in 2023. (SOPA Images/Getty Images)

A Florida drag ban bill has now been introduced that if passed would allow the state to fine or remove the license of venues who allow children into areas where “adult live performances” are taking place. 

It follows Tennessee becoming the first US state to ban drag performances in public places where minors might see them.

The Tennessee law has been widely criticised, with several musicians including Paramore’s Hayley Williams, Hozier and Julien Baker, joining together to perform at a benefit in the state on Monday (20 March) to protest the anti-drag bill and raise money for LGBTQ+ rights. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), more than 410 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in across America during the first few months of 2023.

The HRC noted that the number of bills introduced between January and March of 2023 alone is higher than the number filed throughout the entirety of 2022.

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