ORLANDO — Nadine Smith is overwhelmed by the response to the GoFundMe campaign Equality Florida set up to support the victims of Sunday’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In just four days, more than $4.7 million has been raised by more than 101,000 people.
“Our goal is to make sure that every single penny that is donated goes to the families who need it, to the survivors, and that it is done in a process that will make all of us proud,” says Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida.
The phones at the statewide equality organization have been ringing off the hook, she says, with people from around the world offering burial plots, flowers, and places to stay for those family members who, as Smith explains, “are going to need to sit vigil for quite some time.”
She shares a story about a young man who was in the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning when gunman Omar Mateen launched his deadly rampage, and though the young man escaped with his life, his car is still in the Pulse parking lot. As the space is an active crime scene, he cannot access his vehicle, which means he can’t get to work, adding a financial toll on top of the emotional trauma he already endured. Smith says her organization is working with Uber to help secure the young man transportation to and from work, and that the ride-sharing company has offered additional assistance.
American Airlines is offering free seats on its available flights to Orlando for immediate family members and domestic partners of the victims, in addition to donating a million airline miles to the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and waiving fees associated with transporting the deceased back to their hometowns for burial. Similarly, JetBlue donated $100,000 to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe and is also offering free seats for immediate family members and partners, plus waiving change fees for those impacted.
While Florida in general has a large Spanish-speaking population, Saturday nights at Pulse marked the club’s weekly Latin night. So those donations from airlines may be particularly important given the large portion of the victims whose families are from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other Spanish-speaking nations.
But Smith says her organization is committed to making sure the survivors and families of the victims know that they can not only access the fund, but they can also find culturally competent support as they process this tragedy.
“The challenge is to make sure that every single victim and their families understand they have access to these funds, and understand that language will not be a barrier to accessing it,” she explains. “We’ve made sure that the agencies that we’re working with are prepared to communicate in multiple languages, and we want to make sure those who weren’t hit by a bullet but endured the trauma of that night understand that there are resources to help them move forward.”
The agencies with which Equality Florida is working to distribute support include the National Organization for Victim Assistance. “Sadly, in this country there are agencies like the one we are working with that are experienced in mass shooting incidents and understand the conversations that need to be had, and the issues that need to be addressed,” explains Smith. “From burial to long-term medical care, to mental health for the trauma they’ve endured.”
Indeed, that trauma has been endured by the whole of Orlando, also known as “The City Beautiful.” While applauding the outpouring of support and human kindness that has flooded Orlando in the wake of this tragedy, Smith somberly notes that the extent of the crime committed on Sunday is unparalleled in American history.
“We have veteran police officers who’ve experienced combat saying they’ve never seen the kind of carnage that they encountered in that building on that night,” she says.
Working alongside Equality Florida, the GLBT Center of Central Florida is providing grief counseling to those impacted by the massacre, and in partnership with the city of Orlando has set up a Victim’s Assistance Hotline, which can be reached at (407) 228-1446.
Despite the horrendous attack on Orlando’s LGBT community — and especially on the Latino community — Smith finds strength from her neighbors, friends, and strangers who have stepped up in the city’s time of need.
“There’s a real sense of, we’re in this together,” says Smith of the sentiment permeating Orlando since Sunday. The “overwhelming response” to Equality Florida’s call for financial assistance to the victims has “exceeded everyone’s expectation,” she says. And the support continues to roll in.
“So not only is that desperately needed resources for families at their most desperate hour, it is incredible moral support,” Smith concludes. “It is a way of the people here understanding that they are not standing alone.”