In the hours and days after the attack at Pulse nightclub attack June 12, 2016, people found different ways to give back. Ben Johansen started handing out rainbow ribbons, as a way to help others find hope in the face of tragedy.
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“The message of the ribbon is simple, it’s just to spread love and hope in the memories of our 49 friends that we lost,” Johansen said.
He went on to create the Orlando Ribbon Project, which since 2016, has distributed 550,000 rainbow ribbons to people across the globe.
Johansen said celebrities and ordinary citizens around the world have worn the ribbon, with the exception of at least one: Florida Governor Rick Scott.
“It’s a slap in the face to the LGBTQ community here in Orlando, and all across the country, it makes no sense at all why he won’t wear it,” Johansen said. “When he finally came into The Center five days after the Pulse shooting I offered him a ribbon to his face, and he said “no”, and I offered it again and he said “no.”
Johansen said it’s not just about a ribbon, but about the governor’s response to the Pulse attack. One, in which many survivors and supporters say they found little sympathy and little action from state leaders.
It’s a sentiment that could prove to have a major impact as Florida Governor Rick Scott announced Monday that he is now running for U.S. Senate, challenging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. How both candidates responded to the attack could prove to be critical in their campaigns.
Pulse tragedy colors I-4 corridor perspectives
The I-4 corridor is a crucial battleground for both parties where there is a dense amount of potential voters with no loyalty to either party. There is no firm data to show how many of Florida’s roughly 12 million registered voters identify as LGBTQ.
Democratic State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando took the issue front and center in a series of tweets, shortly after Scott launched his Senate campaign.
Smith accused the governor of giving preference to politics in his response to Parkland where 17 students and teachers were killed by a gunman on February 14, 2018.
”What the governor has done is, he has decided there are some survivors of mass shootings that he likes and some he doesn’t," Smith said. "And if not then, he’s just playing politics because he signed a law in Florida to respond to the terrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas because he knew he was running for Senate, but not as Pulse.”
Smith said in the 612 days between the attack at Pulse and the attack at Parkland, the governor rejected pleas for gun legislation, mental health funding, and an expansion of protections for LGBTQ residents and state workers.
“They have seen with their own eyes the disparities between Rick Scott’s response to Pulse and the response to Parkland,” Smith said. “He cut mental health funding by nearly $20 million in the fiscal year after Pulse, and then after Parkland, he increased mental health funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Scott praised, criticized for Parkland response
Smith also takes issue with the legislature providing $1 million to establish a permanent Parkland memorial, why the state has shied away from providing financial support for a permanent Pulse memorial.
Spectrum News asked Governor Scott about the claims during a campaign rally Tuesday in Tampa.
“Remember, that was a terrorist attack, 49 people lost their lives and what I did after that, I added 46 counter-terrorism experts at Florida Department of Law Enforcement all across the state to try to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Governor Scott.
Spectrum News is awaiting response on the specific issue of the sentiment of those in the LGBTQ community, and whether Governor Scott chose not to wear a rainbow ribbon.
The governor was seen on the ground after Pulse, and again in February 2018 after the shooting in Parkland. He was also seen wearing a maroon ribbon in support of the victims in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
While Scott is facing criticism in Orlando, he is also receiving praise in Parkland.
“Certainly the horrible tragedy we saw in Parkland brought gun rights and gun legislation to the forefront,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
Scott signed some modest gun measures into law that notably raises the age to buy all firearms to 21, imposes a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases, and allows trained school workers to carry handguns.
“I think signing this bill really takes away a talking point for Sen. Nelson,” Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist said. “Now, that will continue to play itself out on the campaign trail, but right now politically they have battled it to a draw.”
In signing the legislation, Scott defied his longtime allies at the National Rifle Association.
“He has had a long record of supporting the Second Amendment. I don’t know that this bill in this environment, will affect people’s views of him if they have historically supported him and his views on the Second Amendment,” Walsh said.
Sens. Nelson, Rubio work on gun legislation
Nelson, on the other hand, has pushed for more gun control measures alongside students from Parkland. Nelson says Scott’s actions don’t go far enough.
“Even the measure he signed didn’t really reflect what many Floridians, including the Parkland students, had been talking about,” said David Bergstein, National Press Secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The Parkland tragedy has brought Florida’s lawmakers on Capitol Hill together. Senators Nelson and Rubio have long had a positive working relationship, but it has become more high-profile in recent weeks, and that could have a lasting influence throughout the race.
“Senators need to work closely with each other, even if they are in different parties on a range of issues,” Walsh said.
As Florida’s Republican establishment rallies around Scott, Rubio has made it clear that he supports Scott, but he will not campaign against his sitting colleague.
“You know, we do alot of things easily that you never see, because we have that personal relationship,” Nelson said.
Rubio and Nelson are planning to host public events on gun legislation together.