Biden to sign law designating Pulse nightclub site a national memorial, designate LGBTQ envoy

WASHINGTON – A gay nightclub that was the site of a horrific shooting in Florida will become a national memorial Friday.

President Joe Biden will sign a law designating the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as a national memorial. Survivors of the shooting and the victims’ family members are expected to attend the signing ceremony at the White House.

Later, Biden will commemorate Pride month by announcing he is appointing advocate Jessica Stern as a special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world. Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International, a New York-based group that works to address human rights violations and abuses against LGBTQ people.

The special envoy position was created in the State Department in 2015 but has been vacant since Stern’s predecessor, Randy Berry, left the job in 2017. Then-President Donald Trump chose not to replace Berry.

Visitors pay tribute to the display outside the Pulse nightclub memorial Friday, June 11, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. The site will become a national memorial. (Photo: John Raoux, AP)

Biden, whom many advocates regard as the most LGBTQ-friendly president ever, has taken several steps to protect the rights of gay and transgender people since taking office in January.

On his first day in office, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to make sure that statutes covering sex discrimination also bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He also rescinded the Trump administration’s ban on openly transgender servicemembers from serving in the military.

The Pulse nightclub law is part of an effort to build a permanent memorial at the site in honor of the 49 people gunned down five years ago by a man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle. Plans call for a reflecting pool, an open-air museum and an education center with gardens and a public plaza.

The project is estimated to cost $45 million. The new law dictates that no federal funds can be used to establish the memorial, but county and state governments, as well as various corporations, have donated millions of dollars to the project. The memorial won’t be a unit of the National Park System.

The attack on the club in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting until a gunman killed 60 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas a year later.

The Pulse gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the club before he was killed in a shootout with police. Patrons at the nightclub said Mateen had hung out at the bar for years.

Legislation to establish the memorial passed the Senate on June 9, three days before the fifth anniversary of the attack. The House approved its own version of the bill on May 12.

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

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