ORLANDO — President Donald Trump officially launched his reelection campaign on Tuesday night in Orlando, while LGBT and Latinx protesters held a counter-rally just blocks away.
Several protesters, gathered outside a gay bar in downtown Orlando, said it felt like a “slap in the face” that Trump chose to hold his first official campaign event in the city less than a week after the three-year anniversary of the Pulse massacre in which 49 LGBT (and mostly Latinx) people were killed at a gay night club. Trump did not acknowledge the mass shooting, which happened blocks away in downtown Orlando, during his rally.
“We just had our anniversary, we just had a memorial mourning the fact that we lost all those lives. He barely even acknowledged the fact that we lost those 49 lives,” said Rocky Rivera. “It wracked the country, it wracked the globe. We’ve been thinking about it ever since … We’ve been scared, and ironically the people we’re scared of support him.”
“It feels a bit like he’s insulting us” by holding his reelection launch in Orlando right after the Pulse anniversary, said Megan Cepell, 45.
In his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, weeks after the Pulse attack, Trump, referring to the shooting, said as president, he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Last year, during a meeting about gun issues at the White House, he said if “one person” at the Pulse nightclub had been carrying a gun, the shooting “wouldn’t have happened, or certainly not to the extent it did.”
Orange County, which includes Orlando, and neighboring Osceola County voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and again for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Florida is an important swing state for Trump in 2020, after he won it in 2016. Republicans gained a Senate seat and held onto the governorship in Florida during the midterms last year, but the margins were slim, and both the Senate and the governor’s races went to recounts at the last minute.
Hours before the rally, the city’s largest newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, published an editorial backing “Not Donald Trump” for president in 2020.
“Orlando in particular voted very heavily to make sure he wasn’t the president, so I don’t know why he chose to come here,” said Jeff Lettman, 33, who carried a sign referencing the Pulse massacre.
Right next to the protest at the bar, a group of students from the University of Central Florida set up a March for Our Lives tent, the Orlando branch of the national gun control movement that grew out of the Parkland mass shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed at a Florida high school last year.
“It’s a big deal to me,” said Bradley Thornton, 21, who grew up in Parkland before moving to Orlando for college, explaining that the group was there partly to protest the lack of gun control legislation federally but is also focusing on registering young voters and trying to push for state-level measures.
Dana Ng, 57, said the main issue that brought her out to the protest is that the Trump administration is excluding transgender people from serving in the military.
“He doesn’t respect us. All we’re asking for is equal rights. We’re being marginalized, we’re being discriminated against, he refuses to recognize that,” she said.
Others at the protest said they’re concerned because the Trump administration has attempted to roll back protections for LGBT people in housing, employment, and education.
“It’s his policies that have utterly put the queer and LGBTQ community at such a disadvantage, and he’s speaking right after the anniversary week of the Pulse shooting, how rude and inconsiderate is that. Just a slap in the face,” said Lenise Joseph, 27.
“Florida is a battleground state, even though it’s been going red lately unfortunately. If Trump doesn’t win Florida, he doesn’t win nationwide,” said Jorge Jimenez, 30, a member of the Osceola Young Democrats. “Is there a trolling element in there? I don’t know, it might be. Orlando is a very progressive city, and we have a ridiculously diverse community here of Latinos and immigrants and LGBTQ people.”