June 12 (UPI) -- Orlando community members, state and national leaders paid homage to victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting five years ago during events Saturday.
At noon, churches in Orlando rang their bells 49 times in honor of the 49 people killed after gunman Omar Mateen opened fire inside the nightclub on June 12, 2016. The mass shooting killed 49 people and injured another 53 in the deadliest attack on the American LGBTQ community in U.S. history. The shooter also died in a shootout with police.
"Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever -- victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino -- our fellow Americans."
Along with Orlando, churches around the world were invited to participate in the bell ringing by registering with One Orlando Alliance, a coalition of over 40 organizations working together to transform Central Florida into a safe and inclusive community for those who are LGBTQ, according to its website.
DeLand Pride will host a gathering at 2 p.m. at The Abbey bar and walk to the corner of New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard where participants will read the names of the 49 people killed in the mass shooting.
The Coalition for Pulse will host a national panel discussion at 5 p.m. to end in a 49-second moment of silence at 6 p.m.
At 7 p.m., a OnePulse Foundation remembrance ceremony will occur at Pulse Interim Memorial, the site of the former nightclub. The ceremony at the memorial is by invitation only for Pulse families, survivors, first responders and ceremony participants but ClickOrlando.com and News 6 will broadcast the full ceremony.
A livestream of ceremony at the memorial will be also be played at the Dr. Phillips Center's Frontyard Festival on the front lawn. Tickets can be reserved online for free with doors opening for the event at 6 p.m. and the event starting at 7 p.m.
Biden, who was vice president at the time of the shooting, remembered traveling with then-President Barack Obama to pay respects to the victims and their families and "the brave first responders and the community who found strength and compassion in each other."
"Over the years, I have stayed in touch with families of the victims and with the survivors who have turned their pain into purpose, and who remind us that we must do more than remember victims of gun violence and all of the survivors, family members, and friends left behind; we must act," Biden added.
Biden said in his statement that he will sign a bill in the coming days designating Pulse nightclub as a national memorial, to mark it as "hallowed ground."
He also urged lawmakers to pass three House-passed bills to close gun background check loopholes, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, establish risk protection orders, also known as "red flag" laws, and eliminate gun manufacturers' immunity from liability.
"We must also acknowledge gun violence's particular impact on LGBTQ+ communities across our nation," Biden said in his statement. "We must drive out hate and inequities that contribute to the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women -- especially transgender women of color. We must create a world in which our LGBTQ+ young people are loved, accepted, and feel safe in living their truth. And the Senate must swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation that will ensure LGBTQ+ Americans have equal protection under law."
During a White House roundtable Friday to recognize the fifth anniversary of the Pulse shooting, participants shared perspectives on the ongoing public health crisis of gun violence and the epidemic levels of violence faced by transgender people, especially transgender women of color. Domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and White House Public Engagement Director and senior adviser Cedric Richmond hosted the virtual roundtable with LGBTQ leaders, advocates, and gun violence survivors.
Throughout Florida, flags will be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset Saturday upon an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis to mark the five-year anniversary.
The governor also declared June 12, 2016, as Pulse Remembrance Day in Florida in a proclamation that listed the names of the 49 people who died in the attack, and asked that all residents pause Saturday for a moment of silence in the morning.
"The State of Florida will not tolerate hatred towards the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities, and together we stand united against terrorism and hate of any kind," the proclamation read.
The proclamation comes amid recent criticism of DeSantis from LGBTQ+ advocates for other actions failing to support the community, including vetoing $150,000 in state funds that would have provided counseling for survivors, Orlando Sentinel reported.
Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf told the Sentinel that DeSantis broke a promise he made during a 2019 Pulse remembrance ceremony to take care of survivors through vetoing the counseling funds.
"Almost two years later to the date, he vetoed mental health services for us," Wolf said. "I will never forget."
DeSantis also eliminated $750,000 state lawmakers had approved for the Orlando-based Zebra Coalition to create housing for homeless gay and transgender youth in what advocates described as a "war" on LGBTQ community in Florida, the Sentinel reported earlier this month.
LGBTQ advocates also criticized DeSantis when he signed into law a bill banning transgender students from playing in women's public high school sports on June 1, the first day of the annual Pride Month, honoring the June 28, 1969, Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, which was a tipping point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the United States, according to the Library of Congress.