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Pulse massacre pushes survivor to champion LGBTQ rights

“This remembrance, I’m reflecting on all we’ve accomplished – and recommitting to honoring the victims by creating a world where trans people are celebrated..."

ORLANDO, Fla. — Five years after he narrowly escaped an enraged gunman that killed 49 people inside Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Brandon Wolf remains on the road to healing and active in the fight for equality in the LGBTQ community.

RELATED: 5 years later: Memorials for PULSE

“You can't imagine what it feels like to be the person who has to call your friend's parents to tell them that they have to identify their children's bodies,” he said.

The night of the massacre, Wolf was with his friend Christopher Andrew Leinonen, better known as “Drew.” Leinonen, 32, was from the Tampa Bay area and graduated from Seminole High School.

RELATED: National Pulse Memorial bill awaits President Biden's signature

“You can't imagine what it's like to sit down at your birthday party every year and there's an empty chair next to you where your best friend belongs, those things don't go away overnight,” said Wolf.

Since the massacre on June 12, 2016, Wolf has become an outspoken champion for gun violence prevention, LGBTQ and minority rights, and has committed his entire career to advocacy.

RELATED: President Biden recognizes Pride Month with proclamation

Wolf said over the last few weeks, Florida’s LGBTQ community has suffered several setbacks at the hands of the state. He cited Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoing funding for a mental health program supporting Pulse survivors on top of a ban on transgender girls participating in girls’ and women’s sports.

“The far-right has determined that transgender people are the wedge issue with which they can pry apart the progress we have made on LGBTQ equality,” he said. “This remembrance, I’m reflecting on all we’ve accomplished – and recommitting to honoring the victims by creating a world where trans people are celebrated, not used as a political football.”

The governor’s office previously stated that while funding for this program was not included in the upcoming budget, the state is allocating a record number of dollars toward mental health programs that will also be accessible to the LGBTQ community.

“The governor has decided that in order to achieve his highest political ambitions, he has to build it on the backs of LGBTQ people,” he said.

Wolf said having the veto and the ban happen during Pride month was particularly insulting, and that backlash aimed at the transgender community, particularly children, remains one of the biggest hurdles the LGBTQ community faces.

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