Pulse Meets Parkland
“After Pulse, a lot of us were scared — but these young kids aren't going away.”
Columbine: 13. Sandy Hook: 27. Killeen: 23. Blacksburg: 32. Las Vegas: 58. Orlando: 49. Parkland: 17. With each mass shooting in America comes a flood of “thoughts and prayers” and an equal amount of “now is not the time to talk about gun reform.” To this, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School say enough is enough.
Over 25,000 people crowded Lake Eola in downtown Orlando in order to advocate for what many referred to as “common sense gun control.” In only five weeks, the march was primarily organized by students from the Never Again University of Central Florida committee, along with survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.
“One of the purposes of this march is to unite young people 18 to 26, people who are the lowest demographic of registered voters. We want to make sure that they know that they have a voice, to know that they can make a change,” says Cameron Marsh, a member of Never Again UCF.
Alongside thousands of young people, the march drew high profile Orlando community leaders, such as Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy and Florida House candidate Anna Eskamani, who was the emcee for the day.
“I’m so inspired by all the young people in the community in Orlando coming out to support Parkland and to ensure that we hold our legislators accountable,” Murphy tells me. “I’m just excited to be here standing shoulder to shoulder with everyone.”
“It’s sad that it had to take another event for this to happen. I’m glad that this has opened peoples eyes and hearts and that they are infuriated — because they should be,” says Brian Reagan, a former manager at Pulse and member of the onePULSE foundation, a nonprofit organization that was established to "create a sanctuary of hope" following the massacre. “We just met some survivors from Parkland, and they are unafraid to talk. After Pulse, a lot of us were scared — but these young kids aren't going away.”
And, these being young people, they are resoundingly intersectional, diverse, and queer, with two leaders emerging from the group of Parkland activists — Emma González and Sarah Chadwick — identifying as LGBTQ+.
“As a bisexual myself, I look to Emma González and Sarah Chadwick as people who, even in the face of discrimination and those who want to silence them, don’t take no for an answer, don’t just shut up, don’t sit idly by. I think that's inspiring,” Marsh says.
Many from the queer community came to show their support for stricter gun control laws, not only to prevent tragedies such as Parkland and Pulse but to address gun-related suicide. This is particularly important to the LGBTQ+ community because suicide disproportionately impacts queer youth; a 2015 studyfound that 42.8% of LGB students had seriously considered attempting suicide in the year prior, compared with 14.8% of heterosexual students.
Orlando resident C.J. Beaulieu marched hand-in-hand with her partner, her voice cracking from exhaustion as she screamed “This is what democracy looks like!” She says she marched for her grade-school sisters, who fear going to school, and for LGBTQ+ victims of suicide, like her 19 year old friend who killed himself with a gun one year ago.
“I think a waiting period would have helped,” Beaulieu says. “I think not allowing him to get his hands on a gun would have helped, and I don’t know if it would have prevented him from killing himself, but it couldn’t have hurt to have these measures in place. He was 19. I don’t want any more kids getting their hands on guns for no reason.”
With a local band performing "Imagine" by John Lennon, the march began. Adopting the unofficial slogan of the gun reform movement, Eskamani rallied the crowd with bullhorn in hand: “I Call B.S.!” Thousands of protesters overflowed into the streets of downtown Orlando as Eskamani’s passionate cries led the crowd to Marco Rubio’s downtown office, one of the march’s predetermined stops.
As the route wrapped its way back to Lake Eola, the crowd halted and chanted anti-NRA slogans. After the crowds dispersed, Eskamani took a moment to reflect on the event and remember Orlando’s history of gun violence.
“So many folks felt silenced after Pulse because nothing happened when their community was directly attacked; they felt like they [didn't have] efficacy,” Eskamani says. “The fact that [Emma González and Sarah Chadwick] are demonstrating to the world that everyone has a voice, no matter who you love or what your gender identity is — it’s inspiring to others like them, and I think that’s so important.”