* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Orlando is home to one of the largest LGBT+ communities in the country and we are proud of it
Buddy Dyer is mayor of Orlando, Florida, USA
June 12, 2016 changed our city forever. The evening before, we went to sleep not knowing we would experience the worst attack against the LGBT+ community and the deadliest shooting by a single attacker in American history at the time.
On a single evening, 49 innocent lives were taken from us and hundreds in our community were left with unimaginable pain, both seen and unseen wounds. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was the darkest day in the history of Orlando. But in our darkest hour – all of our Orlando stood together.
The city has been known worldwide for decades for its dedication to embracing diversity and furthering inclusion. We are home to one of the largest LGBT+ communities in the country and we are proud of it. This was not by accident.
As a community, we’ve worked together for many years to create a welcoming place where every resident independently of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religious belief, disability or nationality could live truly free.
The Pulse tragedy only heightened these important conversations our community was already having with each other about what we needed to do to continue building upon our efforts to be more inclusive and ensure equality for all.
When we were faced with great adversity, as a community because of this strong foundation we had created, we were able to unite and immediately show the world our collaborative spirit and love-filled city.
Together we worked to support the victims’ families and survivors and honour those whose lives were taken. We established the Orlando United Assistance Center to provide care and support, we raised more than $30 million, which we distributed in full to those directly impacted by the tragedy; thousands of people lined up to give blood; and more than 50,000 people gathered at our signature park days after the tragedy to pay their respect for the 49 lives taken.
Three years later, as a community, we are still working together to support families and survivors as well as deeply impacted communities such as the LGBT+ community, Latinx, and other communities of colour. Organisations such as the One Orlando Alliance, QLatinx, and the Contigo Fund have emerged while other organisations such as the LGBT+ Center of Orlando and the Zebra Coalition have been strengthened.
Old partners such as the Central Florida Foundation sprung into life and they funded LGBT+ cultural competence training courses for our social services and mental health providers. Our partners have helped us to build the type of system of care needed to support the healing of those directly impacted as well as our entire community.
As a community we continue to further more equitable policies and local laws, including launching an outreach campaign to hear directly from our transgender community, adding protections for workers based on gender identity and gender expression and becoming the first city in Florida to create a multi-stall, all-user restroom in a government building.
As the fight for LGBT+ equality continues around the world, we hope that our city serves as a beacon of hope for what can be accomplished when a community comes together. In the wake of a tragedy it is easy to be fearful, but by working together and supporting each other, we become stronger.
In Orlando, we will continue to choose to define our community by what unites us. We will continue to embody what it means to be One Orlando, a city where the work of overcoming the challenges that confront us begins from a place of love, unity and respect.