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Florida Gov. DeSantis Strips LGBTQ+ Funds From State Budget

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Just a day after he signed an anti-trans bill into law, the governor used his veto power to deny funding to LGBTQ+ services, including mental health care for survivors of the Pulse tragedy.

After kicking off Pride Month by signing transphobic legislation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday vetoed all LGBTQ+ programs and projects from his state's budget.

That included $150,000 for the LGBT+ Center Orlando. The money was earmarked for the Orlando United Assistance Center, which provides mental health services for survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at the city's Pulse nightclub.

"Yesterday marked the first day of Pride Month, and Gov. DeSantis has once again proved that he is one of the most homophobic and transphobic governors in the United States," said George A. Wallace, LGBT+ Center Orlando executive director.

Equality Florida, the state's most prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, issued a press release slamming the budget decisions. DeSantis signed a budget with more than $101 billion in spending but could find no room for any programs benefiting the LGBTQ+ community specifically. The vetoes also occurred when Florida reports a $6.6 billion surplus, though only thanks to President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, which DeSantis opposed.

Representatives for the governor stressed that while funding designated specifically for Pulse survivors did not make the final budget, survivors can still take advantage of funding provided separately.

"Gov. DeSantis vetoed $1.5 billion in total, which included dozens of line items. Although the specific earmark for Pulse survivors was among those items vetoed, the funding is not going away," said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw. "The Florida Leads budget that the governor signed today provides a historic increase in funding for community-based mental health services, so help will continue to be provided and encouraged for all who need it, including survivors of the Pulse nightclub tragedy.

"Gov. 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. To this end, the new budget ensures that Floridians in need -- including LGBTQ Floridians -- will be able to access vital support and resources."

But survivors of the shooting and other LGBTQ+ advocates don't buy it.

"Let's be clear about what this is: Gov. DeSantis has declared war on Florida's LGBTQ community," said Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the shooting who now works as Equality Florida's media relations manager.

The action proved all the more insulting for Wolf, who met with DeSantis in June 2019, shortly after the governor took office, at the Pulse memorial before the third anniversary of the shooting.

"Before the 2019 Remembrance Ceremony, Gov. DeSantis stood on hallowed ground, steps from where I escaped the building in 2016, and promised me that he would always support those of us impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting," Wolf said. "Today, almost two years later to date, he vetoed mental health services for us. I will never forget."

It's DeSantis's second slight on the LGBTQ+ community since Pride Month started just Tuesday. On the first day of the month, DeSantis signed into law a bill prohibiting of trans girls and women from competing in school and collegiate sports consistent with their gender identity.

In the budget, the mental health funding wasn't the only vetoed item connected to helping LGBTQ+ Floridians. He also killed $750,000 in funding for the Zebra Coalition, which provides services specifically to LGBTQ+ children and young adults, ages 13 to 24.

The Florida legislature, where Republicans control both the Senate and House, had budgeted $750,000 for youth housing programs, most of it to be made available through grants and aid efforts.

"This money would have helped LGBTQ+ youth facing homelessness, bullying, isolation from their families, physical and sexual abuse, and drug abuse," said Heather Wilkie, Zebra Coalition executive director. "We were planning to expand our housing capacity from 11 to 35 beds for homeless youth and were honored for the support of so many of our state legislators. Now we're unsure where the money will come from."

Similarly, leaders of the LGBT+ Center in Orlando expressed disappointment at the loss of funds.

"I am disappointed once again that Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed funding for the LGBTQ community, specifically those affected by the Pulse tragedy," Wallace said. "Some of Central Florida's most vulnerable citizens rely on the Center Orlando to provide lifesaving services, such as case management, navigation, and critical mental health counseling. The OUAC directly serves those impacted by the 2016 Pulse tragedy. We now must pivot to find funding to continue serving Orlando's LGBTQ community at the same level as we had planned for the upcoming fiscal year."

Lawmakers who fought for the funding did not hold back criticisms.

"Vetoing funding for Pulse survivors days before the 5 year remembrance is heartless. Vetoing funds for LGBTQ homeless youth is indefensible," tweeted Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is the only openly gay man serving in the Florida House. "During Pride 2021 following your attack on trans youth? Gov. Ron DeSantis what did LGBTQ people do to you to earn your contempt?"

Early in DeSantis's term, LGBTQ+ activists had hoped the young governor, now 42, would not govern with the same anti-LGBTQ+ zeal as some of his predecessors. But DeSantis in recent months has been more openly setting himself up to run in the 2024 Republican primary for president.

Democratic Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, who represents the district where the Pulse nightclub is located, issued fundraising appeals for the Zebra Coalition and LGBT+ Center on Wednesday after the veto.

"June is a really hard month for Orlando," Eskamani tweeted. "Five years from Pulse, I know it will always be a hard month for Orlando. Gov. Ron DeSantis' contempt for LGBTQ+ people make it even harder. I hold so much. I hold so much pride for our legislative champs. I'm heartbroken by the hate in the Governor's heart."

And U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, also a Democrat, used the veto to advocate for more federal spending to help survivors. He visited the LGBT+ Center and shared images online.

"Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis' veto of mental health funding to Pulse survivors, we will continue to support LGBTQ health and fight to pass the Equality Act," he tweeted.

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