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16 Inspirational Voices for LGBTQ Equality in 2016: Pulse Survivors

As 2016 comes to a close, there is no doubt that this year was difficult for many in the LGBTQ and allied community. After a year of such celebration and momentous progress in 2015, 2016 was a shocking wake-up call to many about the realities that LGBTQ people face. From the rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation to the horrific shooting at Pulse, from the incidents of anti-transgender violence to the election of a presidential ticket that threatened to undermine equality and justice, we know that our job is more important now than ever before.

However, through these difficult times, we witnessed countless moments of inspiration. Throughout the year, time and time again, we saw people stand up and do what was right. Whether they were celebrities, politicians, a friend or just an acquaintance, we saw people stand up for equality and inspire us all. Their stories made us cry, gave us hope and reminded us that love will conquer hate.

On June 12, our world was turned upside down. A horrific shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, shook the nation to its core. Forty-nine innocent LGBTQ people and allies, mostly young and Latinx, were taken from their friends, families and our community far too soon.

As we learned the names and stories of the 49 individuals who died in the tragedy, we also heard incredible stories about the heroes who helped save the lives of countless survivors of the attack. We heard about a war veteran who led dozens to safety, a man who silenced a fellow club-goer so the shooter would not hear her screams, and a mom who pushed her son out of harm’s way so that he would live.

As memorials and tributes were held around the country, 49 celebrities worked with HRC and Emmy Award-winning Ryan Murphy and Ned Martel to share personal stories about each victim.

In the following months, we heard more and more detailed stories about survivors, the victims and their families.

In September, Pulse shooting survivor Brandon Wolf took over HRC’s Twitter handle to talk about the loss of his friend, Drew Leinonen, and the need to end gun and hate violence in America.

We were brought to tears when Ellen DeGeneres and Katy Perry surprised Tony Marrero, another survivor of the Pulse shooting.

We celebrated when Zumba instructor Angel Colon took his first steps after suffering multiple gunshot wounds and a broken leg during the Pulse shooting.

HRC also had the opportunity to meet and hear from Christine Leinonen, the mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen a young man shot and killed along with his boyfriend, Juan Guerrero, at Pulse. Her resilience has been astounding, publicly sharing love and support for her son while tears stream down her face.

“Christopher was a proud gay man,” she said at HRC’s National Dinner. “And I couldn’t have loved him more.”

While it is still so difficult to grapple with the reality that so many  people were targeted and killed  because of who they are and whom they love, these inspirational stories and people kept our hearts full. Their determination and willpower will continue to motivate us into 2017 and beyond. Thank you to those survivors, families, loved one, friends and allies who rallied after Pulse to share the victims’ stories. We will continue to fight for full equality in their honor.

Follow along with HRC’s blog in the coming days as we recognize the people who inspired us and gave us hope, courage and strength in 2016.