The differences were stark in the reactions from the two parties' respective leaders in Congress. In a tweet, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) referred generally to "the victims" of the shooting.
We pray for those brutally attacked in Orlando. While we must learn more about the attacker, the victims & families will not be forgotten.— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) June 12, 2016
In a statement released around the same time, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly mentioned the LGBT community. "While many questions have yet to be answered, the pain of this attack in a mainstay of the Orlando LGBT community is surely magnified as our nation celebrates LGBT Pride month," she said.
Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not mention the LGBT community in his reaction. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) did, saying "that this act of hate occurred at an LGBT mainstay during LGBT Pride Month makes it all the more horrific."
Neither Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) or Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — all members of key national security committees — mentioned the LGBT aspect. In Florida, for much of the day, Republicans avoided the topic while Democrats jumped in. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who represents much of Orlando, reacted with a token of LGBT solidarity.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), whose 10th District covers some of Orlando's suburbs, made no such connection.
Sandy and I extend deepest sympathy for victims & families affected by the mass shooting in Orlando. Our prayers are with their loved ones.— Daniel Webster (@RepWebster) June 12, 2016
Jimmy LaSalvia, a longtime Republican strategist and founder of the defunct LGBT group GOProud, said that the reaction to Orlando reminded him of why he left the party.
"They ignore and reject the reality that LGBT are part of life in America today," LaSalvia said. "Remember the Charleston black church shooting? GOP politicians there fell all over themselves to take down the Confederate flag. I doubt anything like that will happen with the gay club shooting."
In his statement, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made a quick LGBT reference, saying that "radical Islam advocates hate for women, gays, Jews, Christians and all Americans." But by Sunday afternoon, only three prominent Republicans in Congress had mentioned the LGBT community in their reactions. One was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who may gave the steepest reelection challenge of any blue-state Republican. Last week, he pointedly withdrew his endorsement of Trump for president; today, his statement referred to a "hateful terrorist act that targeted the Orlando gay community."
Another Republican with a pointed reaction was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). In 2015, he was criticized for rejecting the idea that a shooter near a Planned Parenthood clinic could have been motivated by anti-abortion activism, suggesting that he might well have been a "transgendered leftist." Today, in a lengthy statement, Cruz noted the threat to the LGBT community, but he went further, suggesting that Democrats who did not take the fight against "radical Islam" seriously were being poor allies.
“For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians," Cruz said. "ISIS and the theocracy in Iran (supported with American taxpayer dollars) regularly murder homosexuals, throwing them from buildings and burying them under rocks. This is wrong, it is evil, and we must all stand against it. Every human being has a right to live according to his or her faith and conscience, and nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn’t share their faith or sexual orientation. If you’re a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder."
Finally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who flew from his Miami home to Orlando on Sunday morning, addressed the threat to LGBT people at a news conference. Rubio, who is under new pressure from fellow Republicans to run for reelection to his Senate seat, linked the intolerance for gay people seen in extremist Islam to the events in Orlando.
"That he targeted a location frequented by members of our LGBT community — my gut tells me that it had something to do with it as well," said Rubio. "It's part of their warped ideology, the idea that you kill people whose lifestyles you don't like."
This story has been updated.