Fourteen people making Orlando a better place

People we love

Fourteen people making Orlando a better place

Page 13 of 13

click to enlarge Fourteen people making Orlando a better place
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Brandon Wolf

Pulse survivor, gun reform activist

The gravity of everything that happened after June 12 didn't hit Brandon Wolf until he was about to go on stage in front of thousands of people at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A month earlier, he had been partying with his two best friends, Christopher "Drew" Leinonen and Leinonen's boyfriend, Juan Guerrero, at the gay nightclub Pulse. Leinonen said, "I love you," and told Wolf to always remind others how much he loved them. Then suddenly, Leinonen was gone, along with Guerrero and 47 others who died in the mass shooting during those early morning hours. One moment Wolf, 28, was running, then he was going to funerals, then he was being held by President Barack Obama, who told him it would get better.

Wolf could have hidden inside his home, as many did after the massacre. But instead, he walked onto the DNC stage with Leinonen's mother, Christine, and held her hand as she told people how gun violence had taken away her only son.

"It changed my life forever," he says. "I remember as she was speaking about how it took five minutes to hear a bell toll 49 times, she started to come down. And I looked in to the front row, and I saw this guy, who had rainbow everything on, was sobbing uncontrollably and gave her a standing ovation from start to finish. A few of those moments helped me realize we had to do something. That's what we were here for."

click to enlarge Fourteen people making Orlando a better place
Photo by Rob Bartlett

He's channeled that passion into the Dru Project, an organization created in memory of Leinonen that builds gay-straight alliances in schools, and becoming one of the most powerful voices in the fight against gun violence. In a couple of weeks, he'll be spending more time in front of Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee as he works to combat the many proposed expansions of gun carry in public places.

"We want the message coming out of Orlando to be one of love and unity," Wolf says. "After Pulse, a lot of people have the same fire burning as I do because they saw what failure to act can do in our community. It's time to stand up and use your voices."

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