TAMPA, Fla. — Members of Florida’s LGBTQ community are firing back after Gov. Ron DeSantis slashed thousands in funding for programs benefiting survivors of the Pulse massacre.
“You cannot imagine the incredible toll it takes when you’re the one who has to call their parents and tell them that they have to identify their children's bodies,” said Brandon Wolf.
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Wolf tells ABC Action News he will never forget the moment Pulse came under attack in 2016.
He recalls escaping with his life only because he went to the bathroom when the gunman opened fire inside.
“My best friends, who I love more than anything in the world, ended up taking 19 gunshot wounds between the two of them,” said Wolf. “One was carried out on a stretcher and died in surgery and my best friend, Drew, never made it off the dance floor.”
Nearing the fifth anniversary of the attack, Wolf said it’s valuable resources for survivors like him that are now under attack.
Gov. DeSantis axed more than $1 billion from the state budget through line-item vetoes, including $150,000 for the Orlando United Assistance Center. The center provides mental health and counseling services for Pulse shooting survivors.
“The truth is that people who are accessing that life-saving care right now, people who are getting therapy sessions for their PTSD will lose that care because the Governor is waging a war on LGBTQ Floridians,” said Wolf.
DeSantis also vetoed $50,000 in state funding for The Zebra Coalition, a group that plans to transform a portion of an Orlando hotel into housing for LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness.
Gov. DeSantis, who signed the $101 billion budget in Pasco County Wednesday, touted an overall increase in mental health funding, including $120 million for in-school mental health initiatives, a $20 million dollar hike from last year.
“We got about $2.5 billion for mental health and substance abuse throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We understand it’s a challenge but we’re stepping up to meet the challenge.”
Equality Florida responded Wednesday, stating in part, “Governor Ron DeSantis continued his anti-LGBTQ crusade on the second day of Pride Month by vetoing all funding for LGBTQ programs from the state budget. Canceled funding includes money earmarked for mental health programming to support survivors of the Pulse Massacre, to house homeless LGBTQ children, and for Orlando’s LGBTQ Community Center.”
ABC Action News called and emailed the Governor’s office to specially ask about cuts to LGBTQ programs in Florida, but we are still waiting to hear back.
To read the full list of vetoed items, click here.