Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week slashed $900,000 in funding for programs that serve LGBTQ people in Central Florida, including a program that provides mental health services to survivors and family members of victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting.
DeSantis’s vetoes — part of a long list of hometown projects the governor eliminated before approving a new $100 billion state budget — came a day after the Republican governor signed into law a controversial measure that bans transgender females from participating on girls’ and women’s high-school and college sports teams.
The Wednesday budget vetoes also came shortly before the fifth anniversary of the June 12, 2016, mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, that left 49 people dead.
“Timing matters. What message are LGBT people meant to receive from Gov. DeSantis other than that this is an insult to them?” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay. “The Orlando community right now is bracing for the five-year remembrance, and for Gov. DeSantis to veto funding for Pulse survivors and families is just cruel.”
Smith told The News Service of Florida that he remembers having “high hopes” that DeSantis would be progressive on LGBTQ issues. But Smith said he’d been disappointed in the governor ever since.
Rep. Anna Eskamanian, an Orlando Democrat who requested money for the vetoed projects, blasted DeSantis.
“The governor is a homophobe and a transphobe who doesn’t actually care about Floridians who are different from him,” said Eskamani, whose district includes the Pulse site.
But Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said the budget includes an additional $212,274,073 in community-based mental health funding for the next fiscal year, and services will continue to be provided.
“Governor DeSantis has been a champion on mental health since day one — and he absolutely supports every Floridian who has experienced such horrific trauma, which has a lifelong impact on survivors,” Pushaw said in an email. “To this end, the new budget ensures that Floridians in need — including LGBTQ Floridians — will continue to have access to vital support and the mental health resources they need to survive and thrive.”
Pulse nightclub survivor Brandon Wolf went on social media Wednesday after DeSantis’ veto and posted a picture of himself and the governor taken in 2019.
“Here’s @GovRonDeSantis in 2019, standing on hallowed ground, promising me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting. Today, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget,” Wolf posted on Twitter.