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Activists say Florida Gov. DeSantis' funding cuts will hurt Pulse survivors, other LGBTQ programs

The governor's office called the claims "patently false."
Image: Pulse nightclub
A makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub, a month after the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., on July 11, 2016.John Raoux / AP

LGBTQ+ advocates in Florida are calling Gov. Ron DeSantis "heartless" in the wake of funding cuts that they say strip mental health resources for survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre and other support systems for the community.

DeSantis, in signing the state budget Wednesday, took money away from Orlando’s LGBTQ Community Center and an organization that houses homeless LGBTQ youth, according to a list of budget items he vetoed.

Equality Florida, a civil rights organization focused on the LGBTQ community, said the cuts represented the entirety of funding for LBGTQ programs in the state budget.

“Let’s be clear about what this is: Governor DeSantis has declared war on Florida’s LGBTQ community,” Brandon Wolf, media relations manager for Equality Florida and a survivor of the Pulse massacre, said in a statement. “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.”

DeSantis' funding vetoes came just 10 days before the fifth anniversary of the June 12, 2016, Pulse Nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

DeSantis' office did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News on Friday.

However, his spokeswoman defended the governor in an email to The Washington Post.

“Governor DeSantis has been a champion on mental health since day one — and he absolutely supports each and every Floridian who has experienced such horrific trauma, which has a lifelong impact on survivors,” Christina Pushaw told the newspaper.

DeSantis’ office called claims that his vetoes would hurt Pulse survivors “patently false.”

“No Floridian in need should go without mental health care, and of course that includes survivors of horrific traumas like the Pulse shooting," Pushaw added. "The fact that Gov. DeSantis vetoed funds earmarked for a specific organization doesn’t negate his administration’s historic investments in mental health for all Floridians, including LGBTQ communities.”

In the wake of the Pulse shooting, which devastated Florida’s LGBTQ and LatinX communities, then-President Barack Obama called Orlando’s LGBTQ Community Center "ground zero for community healing."

George A. Wallace, the center's executive director, said 2020's veto of $45,000 for mental health counseling at the center was expected, but this year's $150,000 cut "stings" in light of a report from Equality Florida that the state has a record budget surplus of $6.6 billion this year due to the American Rescue Plan.

"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," he said.

Zebra Coalition, which provides services to LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24, also lost funding.

“This money would have helped LGBTQ+ youth facing homelessness, bullying, isolation from their families, physical and sexual abuse, and drug abuse,” executive director Heather Wilkie said.

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Smith, the state's first openly gay Latino legislator, shared his dismay on Twitter.

"VETOING funds for LGBTQ homeless youth is indefensible," he wrote. "VETOING funding for @pulseorlando survivors days before the 5 year remembrance is heartless."

Smith also criticized the governor for signing a bill on June 1 that bars transgender girls and women from playing on girls sports teams at public schools.

"@GovRonDeSantis what did LGBTQ people do to you to earn your contempt?" Smith asked.