- “We’ll never fully recover, but we’ll remember,” Biden said before signing the law.
- Biden has taken steps to protect the rights of gay and transgender people since taking office.
- The Pulse gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
- “This afternoon, we celebrate,” Biden said. “Tomorrow we go back to work.”
WASHINGTON – A nightclub that was the site of a horrific shooting in Florida became a national memorial Friday.
“A place of acceptance and joy became a place of unspeakable pain and loss. We’ll never fully recover, but we’ll remember,” Biden said before signing the law designating the memorial. Pulse survivors stood around the president as pictures of the 49 killed displayed on video screens.
“May no president ever have to sign another monument like this,” Biden said.
At a separate White House event, Biden commemorated Pride month by appointing advocate Jessica Stern as a special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world. Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International, a New York-based group that works to address human rights violations and abuses against LGBTQ people.
The special envoy position was created in the State Department in 2015 but has been vacant since Stern’s predecessor, Randy Berry, left the job in 2017. Then-President Donald Trump chose not to replace Berry.
At the bill signing, Biden said the Pulse memorial represents a “monument to the loss that occurred” and “an absolute determination that we’re going to deal with this every single solitary day, and make sure that we’re not in a position to see this happen again.”
The president said those killed were “family members, parents, friends, veterans, students, young, Black, Asian, Latino – all fellow Americans.”
“And in their memory, and for the countless others forever scarred, is why I sign this today.”
First lady Jill Biden and Congressional Equality Caucus members, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., also attended the signing. They were joined by Lt. Col. Bree Fram, one of the highest-ranking openly transgender members of the military, and youth transgender advocates Stella Keating and Ashton Mota of the GenderCool Project.
The onePulse Foundation, the nonprofit group behind the push for a memorial, said in a statement the national designation means “that our federal government recognizes the depth of the tragedy of Pulse” and sends a message that “we will always outlove hate.”
Biden, whom many advocates regard as the most LGBTQ-friendly president ever, has taken several steps to protect the rights of gay and transgender people since taking office in January.
On his first day in office, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to make sure that statutes covering sex discrimination also bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He also rescinded the Trump administration’s ban on openly transgender servicemembers from serving in the military.
The Pulse nightclub law is part of an effort to build a permanent memorial at the site in honor of the 49 people gunned down five years ago by a man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle. Plans call for a reflecting pool, an open-air museum and an education center with gardens and a public plaza.
The project is estimated to cost $45 million. The new law dictates that no federal funds can be used to establish the memorial, but county and state governments, as well as various corporations, have donated millions of dollars to the project. The memorial won’t be a unit of the National Park System.
The attack on the club in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting until a gunman killed 60 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas a year later.
The Pulse gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the club before he was killed in a shootout with police. Patrons at the nightclub said Mateen had hung out at the bar for years.
Legislation to establish the memorial passed the Senate on June 9, three days before the fifth anniversary of the attack. The House approved its own version of the bill on May 12.
At the Pride event in the White House East Room, Biden celebrated the progress that has been made on LGBTQ rights but warned that the fight is far from over.
He was joined by other LGBTQ members of his administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who warned of “an especially dangerous political strategy” arising in some states that are pushing a series of new laws to restrict transgender rights.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate, accused politicians behind those laws of trying to gain a political advantage “by picking on transgender kids.”
In his remarks, Biden called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would expand protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to bar discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. He also denounced state statutes targeting transgender rights as “some of the ugliest, most un-American laws I’ve seen.”
Overall, though, the mood was festive, with Biden declaring, “Pride is back at the White House.”
“This afternoon, we celebrate,” he said. “Tomorrow we go back to work. Progress won’t come easy. It never has. But we’re going to stand strong, stand together.”
Michael Collins and Joey Garrison cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and Garrison @joeygarrison.