The site of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured in a shooting in 2016, is going to be a national memorial.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday giving the site the designation, and the House of Representatives had approved it in May. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law. Saturday will mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.
Most of Pulse’s patrons and therefore most of the victims were LGBTQ+ and Latinx. The shooting was the worst mass killing of LGBTQ+ people in U.S. history, surpassing the 1973 arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans, in which 32 people died. The Pulse attack was also the worst mass shooting in the U.S. up to the time; it was surpassed the following year by one at a Las Vegas venue, where 58 people were killed.
The new legislation won’t put the Pulse site under the National Park system, nor will it allocate federal funds for the memorial being constructed there, but it is nonetheless important, sponsors and activists say.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do, not just to honor the victims and families ... but so many people who can relate to the experience,” U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla of California told The Advocate in a phone interview Thursday. Those include other victims of gun violence, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color, he said.
Padilla, a Democrat, was an original cosponsor of the bill, joining Florida’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Padilla is one of the newest members of the Senate; he was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Kamala Harris when she became vice president.
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Florida, was the lead House sponsor. “As we approach five years since the Pulse nightclub shooting, the federal designation of the Pulse National Memorial is a deeply meaningful way to honor the lives that were taken that night,” Soto said in an emailed statement to The Advocate. “Though the Orlando community will never stop grieving our 49 angels lost and 54 injured, this memorial will serve as a reminder of our commitment to keep their memories, spirits, and stories alive. It is also our hope that it will be a national and international symbol of our ability to come together and persevere in the face of tragedy. I am humbled by the bipartisan support that my bill with Representatives Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings received in the Senate, and thank Senator Padilla for his contributions to our efforts.”
There is an interim memorial at the club site now, and the onePULSE Foundation is planning to build a permanent one, to be called the National Pulse Memorial & Museum. It “will incorporate the remains of the club into a garden with a reflecting pool and 49 trees, with the open-air museum planned for construction a half-mile away,” the Orlando Sentinel reports. There will also be a Survivors Walk spanning the half-mile from the club site to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which treated the wounded.
The foundation posted a statement about the congressional legislation on Facebook.
The memorial will spur conversations that will help the nation overcome hatred and homophobia, Padilla said. “We’re all Americans,” he said. “We all have the same rights to live and love freely and safely.”
He’s also committed to other steps to reduce gun violence, such as expanding background checks for gun purchases, and to assure LGBTQ+ rights, including the Equality Act, which has passed the House but has yet to come to a vote in the Senate. The Equality Act’s situation is an example of why the Senate should get rid of the filibuster, the procedure under which it takes 60 votes to end debate on an issue and move to a final vote, he said.
Before becoming a U.S. senator, Padilla was a Los Angeles City Council member, a California state senator, and California secretary of state. Now, he said, “I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life.” But he added that he’s happy to be where he is, in a position to advance human rights on the national level.