In Memory of the Tragic Shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando

Never forget the victims and honor them with action

One year ago, in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, we all witnessed an unthinkable act of hatred and terror at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

It was Pride Month. It was Latin night. And dozens of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with friends and family, were gathered simply to have fun in what should have been a place of acceptance, affirmation and safety.

And, in a matter of moments, what should have been a celebration turned into one of the worst mass shootings in American history. A targeted act of terror and hate. An attack on the freedoms we all hold dear.

These forty-nine innocent people lost their lives to this attack. Fifty-three others were wounded, and many more carry emotional scars to this day.

This was not only a deadly act of domestic terrorism; it was a hate crime. A crime that targeted victims because of who they are and designed not just to harm its victims, but to terrorize everyone in their community.

Last year, I went to the Senate floor to read the names and tell the stories of the victims of this massacre in Orlando, because we cannot and must not forget these men and women. Their stories needed a voice.

Today, I again remember the victims.

And as I did one year ago, I ask my colleagues to find the courage to stand up, speak out and act to confront the rising tide of hate crimes and discrimination in America.

We must never forget the victims of this hate crime and we must honor them with action.

While the Pulse shooting was an unimaginable horror, it is sadly far from the only act of violence perpetrated out of hatred. Even before June 12th, we had seen an alarming increase in reports of hate crimes against LGBT people, but also racial and religious minorities, and immigrants.

And in the aftermath of a divisive election, we saw hundreds of documented instances of discrimination, harassment and even violence against members of minority communities, as well as increased hostility in our nation’s schools.

In this year alone, at least eleven transgender people have been murdered, most of them women of color.

The fact is many members of racial, ethnic, disability and religious minority communities, as well as LGBT people, live in very real fear for their safety.

They are scared, and it is incumbent upon President Trump, as our nation’s leader, to demonstrate to them — and all Americans — that discrimination and violence against any individual because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love will not be tolerated in our country.

When I stood on the Senate floor last year, I called for a greater investment in the federal government’s efforts to both try and prevent hate crimes, and fully investigate and prosecute them when they happen.

After President Trump took office, I was joined by a number of my Senate colleagues in urging him and Attorney General Sessions to support robust funding for Department of Justice programs that combat bias-motivated crimes.

I believe a documented increase in hate crimes demands an increase in the resources committed to fighting this problem. But the budget put forward by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions seeks no increases — in fact, it proposes cutting more than one hundred staff from the Department’s Civil Rights Division.

This Administration has failed to step up and speak out against this disturbing trend across our country, or to commit the resources necessary to fight it.

Instead of showing the moral leadership our nation needs in the face of increasing hatred and division, President Trump and his Administration have taken steps to roll back our nation’s progress in many areas, including progress for the LGBT community.

Rather than issue a proclamation recognizing Pride Month and committing to address the many challenges still facing LGBT Americans, President Trump recently issued an executive order that could open the door to discrimination with federal taxpayer dollars.

Rather than stand up for transgender students facing bullying, harassment and discrimination, this Administration rescinded guidance to schools about the rights of these vulnerable young people under federal law.

Rather than build on the steps taken to better understand the needs of LGBT people by simply counting us, the Trump Administration has walked back efforts to ask about LGBT Americans in federal surveys at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau.

Simply put, President Trump has not lived up to his vow to be a “President for all Americans.”

But where I come from, in Wisconsin, our state motto consists of one word: “Forward.” And I believe that, no matter who is in the Oval Office, history moves in only one direction…forward.

Remember, while Pride Month is of course about celebration — of who we are and how far we have come — it is just as much about bravely standing up and speaking out so that others won’t feel compelled to live in silence.

To the survivors of the Pulse shooting, and the families and friends of those who were murdered, who feel the wounds of this tragedy most deeply: We hear your voices and we are inspired by your strength.

As a community, we have never been deterred by tragedy, and will not be now. One of the early leaders in our fight for equality, Harvey Milk, was struck down by violent hatred.

Harvey famously said, “Hope will never be silent.”

So today, I want to remind us of the power of hope in the face of tragedy.

We must continue our work to pass on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less equal.

We must remain strong in fighting any rollback of progress, large or small.

There is more work to be done to ensure all Americans are protected from hatred and discrimination.

And the work toward full equality for LGBT people and their families remains far from complete.

For myself and those that stand united this Pride Month, we are guided by our uniquely American values.

It’s about freedom — the freedom to realize our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law.

It’s about fairness — about whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans deserve to be treated just like their family members, their friends, their neighbors and fellow workers.

It’s about opportunity — about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success.

This is the promise of America and we must fight to make sure we keep it.