On Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, Pulse shooting survivor Brandon Wolf spoke to the House Oversight and Reform Committee during a special hearing about anti-LGBTQ+ violence and extremism. The Pulse massacre occurred in 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, but the impetus of this particular meeting was actually a different shooting at a different LGBTQ+ club in Colorado. In November, five people were killed and at least 25 more folks were injured when suspected shooter Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly attacked Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Wolf, who previously spoke before Congress back in 2019, did not hold back in his address, and for good reason. Republicans have made it a fundamental campaign issue to rally against LGBTQ+ folks, especially trans youth and trans adults. We’ve seen a disturbing number of bills seeking to ban gender-affirming health care for trans folks of all ages, in addition to efforts to bar trans girls and women from participating in girls' sports. Anti-trans bathroom bills are also having a sick renaissance.
Oh, and we can’t forget the proliferation of Don’t Say Gay bills, thanks to the likes of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Wolf, who currently serves as the Press Secretary for Equality Florida, calls out DeSantis—and his “insatiable political ambition”—in the best way. Wolf’s full address is about five minutes and well worth a close listen, especially the part that isn’t going viral on social media (yet).
Be warned, his recollection of surviving the Pulse massacre is detailed and difficult to listen to, but if you’re able to stand it, it’s incredibly important.
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“Being LGBTQ in America in 2022 means looking over your shoulder before you hold hands with someone you love,” Wolf begins in his address. “It means watching your very humanity be litigated day in and day out on every cable news network and across every social media platform. It means wondering if today is the day when hate comes a fist or worse: An AR-15.”
“It means wondering if today your little slice of normal—the thing you told yourself you didn’t deserve—comes to an end. My day came on June 12 of 2016. Pulse Nightclub was one of the first places I ever went that I didn’t look over my shoulder. Where I didn’t stiffen my wrist or deepen my voice to avoid detection.
And that night, everything about Pulse Nightclub was normal. I went to the same bartender I always went to, ordered the same drinks I always ordered, and as the night came to a close, I stepped into the same bathroom I’d been in hundreds of times before. There was a poster on the wall with the painted faces of drag queens I knew well. There was a half-empty cup teetering on the edge of a sink like it might fall off. Water from the faucet was ice cold that night.
There were gunshots. Endless gunshots.The hair standing up on the back of my next. The stench of blood and smoke burning the inside of my nose. The huddle against a wall; a girl trying desperately, trying so hard, not to scream. I could feel her trembling on the tiles underneath us.
There was a sprint for the exit, all atop this bang, bang, bang from an assault weapon.
A man filled with hate charged into Pulse in my city of Orlando. An LGBTQ safe space and murdered 49 of those we loved. My best friends, Drew and Juan, took 19 of the over 110 rounds that man pumped into the club. I’ll never forget the thousands of desperate calls I placed to Drew, or his family’s heartbroken screams when I had to tell them their child would not be coming home. And I’ll never unsee their lifeless bodies in cold, hard caskets.”
Here is the full clip.
And here is the clip that’s going viral on Twitter.
“For years,” Wolf begins in the clip above. “Cynical politicians and greedy grifters have joined forces with right-wing extremists to pour gasoline on anti-LGBTQ hysteria and terrorize our community. My own governor, Ron DeSantis, has trafficked in that bigotry to feed his insatiable political ambition and propel himself toward the White House.”
"We have been smeared and defamed. Hundreds of bills have been filed in order to erase us,” Wolf continued. “Powerful figures have insisted that the greatest threats this country faces are a teacher with they/them pronouns or someone in a wig reading Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
"All along,” Wolf added, “We warned all of these short-sighted political maneuvers will come with a human cost but they've continued anyway.
“Even as queer kids told us they were scared and that life was getting less safe for them. Even as hate violence escalated and as children’s hospitals faced mounting bomb threats and armed protesters started showing up at Pride festivals and brunches. As an Oklahoma donut shop was fire-bombed for daring to host a drag show. Even as five innocent people in Colorado Springs went into a space that was supposed to be safe for them and came out in body bags.
The attacks have continued. We can be better than that. We have to be better than that. Right-wing extremism relies on this manufactured belief that its poison is inevitable. But I contend that resistance is necessary and that it is our duty.
We need to say without apology that people who endanger entire marginalized communities for social media content and fundraising fodder have no place in our politics. We need to hold accountable those who traffic in bigotry to score cheap political points. We need to address how an obsession with guns takes dangerous hatred and makes it fatal.”
For the curious, here’s Wolf’s first address to Congress back in 2019.