ORLANDO – Carlos Guillermo Smith woke up at 6:30 a.m. to push-notifications lighting up his phone.
“I first reacted with fear. Pulse is a place where I go to often, where many of my friends go often. It’s a popular place. I reached out to every one I could think of, everyone close to me.”
As details unfolded through Sunday morning Carlos was already active, organizing among his fellow Orlandoans, and, as of our interview a week later, had yet to slow down.
Aiding the victims
Carlos Guillermo-Smith is the Government Affairs Manager for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights organization whose GoFundMe account for the victims and their families shattered online crowd funding records by raising over $6 million.
“Over 110,000 individual donors from around the world doing what they can to help the effected families navigate through this unthinkable hate crime massacre.
“For me, it’s been personal.”
An overwhelming majority of those killed and injured were LGBTQ and/or Latino, two groups Carlos identifies with.
“As a gay Latino in Orlando, I’m personally devastated that something like this would happen to my people. I’m doing everything I can, and we are doing everything we can at Equality Florida to get through this.”
Equality Florida has partnered with the National Center for Victims of Crime to ensure that all the money raised gets to those who need it.
“We’ve set up an 800-number (800-855-4-victim) where people can call in to get access to the financial resources they need so they can begin to rebuild. 100 percent of the funds are going toward the victims and surviving families, ensuring there is no gap in coverage for necessary services.”
Special effort has been made to ensure that the services that are being made available to these primarily Latino victims are “culturally competent.”
“It’s important for the Latino community to understand that even if they’re undocumented, survivors of this horrific tragedy have the right to access these kinds of services, even ones provided by state and local governments.”
In the hours after the shooting, rumors spread through “irresponsible reporting” that undocumented people who stepped forward to ask for help would be deported. “This is absolutely not the case,” says Smith.
An eye on change at all levels
Carlos is a man who wears many hats. Aside from being a leader in the LGBTQ equality movement in Florida and a Latino leader, he is also the former head of the Orange County Democratic Party and a candidate for the 49th District State Representative seat in Florida.
“The Democratic community is rightfully responding and holding Republican elected officials accountable for their past records. The reason this massacre happened is because a radical American homophobe had access to weapons of mass destruction, which is what those weapons are. There is no sensible use for a weapon of its kind other than to inflict the maximum amount of human casualties.”
His hope is for the LGBTQ community to join with those disproportionately victimized by gun-violence in the Black and Latino communities, and in the case of Orlando, the business community as well.
“Orlando is known as a travel destination and the local tourism community here cares a lot about Orlando’s image. If that’s the case, I call on those in the theme park, hotel, and restaurant businesses to join us in this fight for gun safety reform in Florida.”
Smith has also called on Republican Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to ban LGBTQ discrimination in public employment and housing, a move he says can send “a very powerful message that all types of discrimination and hate will not be tolerated in Florida.”
Carlos hopes that this tragedy ignites and broadens the coalition required to make gun reform a reality come November.
“The response at the top of the ticket has been horrifying with Donald Trump specifically suggesting that guns should be allowed into bars. Even the NRA has rejected that as an extreme proposal, and that’s coming from an extremist organization.
“It’s got to be a part of the conversation in this election cycle. This tragedy has impacted the central Florida LGBTQ community so much that they will be casting their ballot in all races up and down the ticket based on who they think will be most supportive of gun safety measures in the light of this tragedy.”
Photo: Orange Democrats 2016 Kennedy King Leadership Dinner. | Carlos Guillermo Smith Facebook page