US proposes national memorial for gay nightclub victims

Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida on June 12, 2016. (Reuters pic)

NEW YORK: A gay nightclub where 49 people were killed in one of the United States’ worst mass shootings could become a protected national memorial and museum under legislation introduced on Monday.

Florida man Omar Mateen, 29, shot dead 49 people and injured 69 others on June 12 three years ago at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando after claiming allegiance to a leader of Islamic State.

He was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.

Then the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, it has since been surpassed by a Las Vegas attack in which a man opened fire on an outdoor concert in 2017, killing 58 people.

Giving the Pulse site federal recognition as a national memorial will allow it to receive public and private grants and protection from deterioration and vandalism, according to Florida lawmakers.

Other sites with such status include the AIDS Memorial Grove, commemorating the lives lost to HIV and AIDS, and the Stonewall National Monument, the site of riots in 1969 that gave rise to the modern gay rights movement.

“We will honour their memories, be inspired by their legacies, and recognise the positive contributions the LGBTQ community offers to the world,” said Stephanie Murphy, a Florida congresswoman and co-sponsor of the bill introduced on Monday.

Civil rights activists claim the Pulse massacre was a hate crime.

“In these times when acts of hate and violence are on the rise, we must remember our past and work to do better now and in the future,” said Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse and head of the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit to memorialise the shooting.

Nearly 17% of all hate crime victims in the United States were LGBT+ people, according to a 2017 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Poma has led a campaign to build the National Pulse Memorial and Museum at the site of the nightclub, now closed, which she said will be “a place for all,” including people who may not consider themselves LGBT+ allies.

“The memorial is a place where you go to pay your respects, to grieve, to bear witness, and the museum is where you go to learn,” Poma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The national designation … gives our families and survivors and first responders, the entire community, the dignity and respect that’s owed for what they endured here.”

The onePULSE Foundation aims to raise US$50 million for the design, building and maintenance of the memorial and a scholarship fund.

Six design teams were short-listed to tackle the memorial and a winner will be announced in October with the memorial set to open in 2022.