MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Many in Florida shared Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis’ assumption of a terror attack when a driver slammed his pickup truck into a crowd during a Pride parade on Saturday night in Broward County’s city of Wilton Manors.
The incident triggered trauma. On June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old man killed 49 and wounded 53 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The shooter had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. Fears of a second terrorist attack against the LGBTQ+ community in Florida quickly resurfaced on Saturday.
Wilton Manors Commissioner Chris Caputo was on a float nearby and said he noticed quickly that it had been an accident. He wasn’t surprised Trantalis said it was a terror attack, because he also witnessed how many of the people who were there jumped to speculate in panic.
“I could hear the comments of people who were reacting from the heart and thought it was terrorism,” Caputo said on Monday. “It’s easy to understand how the trauma we feel inside can create feeling fear and terror that lives within so many today,”
Fred Johnson, a 77-year-old member of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, accidentally accelerated his truck and killed his 75-year-old friend James Fahy, a fellow member of the chorus, police said. Johnson wasn’t able to walk due to a health issue, so he drove behind them with a rainbow flag.
Brandon Wolf, who was born in Oregon and moved to Orlando in 2008, survived the Pulse nightclub massacre five years ago. His friends Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero, Leinonen’s partner, didn’t.
Wolf said he thought about them when he became the first survivor to testify before Congress and he hasn’t stopped advocating for gun control since. As a spokesman for Equality Florida, a political advocacy group, he continues to work for the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Wolf was heartbroken when he heard a driver plowed into a crowd on Saturday at the Pride parade in Wilton Manors.
“I am glad it wasn’t a hate-fueled violent attack, but there’s a reason our minds go there first,” Wolf said during an interview on Zoom.
Wolf, who studied political science at the University of Oregon, has said some members of the Republican party who follow former President Donald Trump are taking stances against the LGBTQ+ community. Wolf has been a vocal critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Days before the painful fifth anniversary of the Pulse massacre, DeSantis slashed funding for programs that serve the LGBTQ+ community. The funding was part of the state’s budget for health and human services. DeSantis also signed the transgender athlete ban.
Earlier this month, witnesses said there was an anti-LGBTQ vandal in Delray Beach. Video shows the man had a Trump flag attached to his pickup truck and was part of a caravan to celebrate the former president’s birthday on June 14 when he vandalized a floor mural that was commemorating Pride Month.
There are clear political divisions on LGBTQ rights in Florida. Michael Albetta, of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, and U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were among the Democrats who were at the Pride parade on Saturday in Wilton Manors.
Trantalis, the first openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale, is a Democrat. On Monday, he said he was apologetic for spreading misinformation, but not for feeling the terror after the tragedy in Wilton Manors.
Wolf said he understands Trantalis. He and other activists fear the political rhetoric from anti-LGBTQ activists, some of whom preach religious extremism, could potentially incite hate crimes.
“We are all just waiting for that hammer to drop,” Wolf said.