Brandon Wolf is a survivor. On June 12, 2016, he was standing in the bathroom of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, when he heard shots ring out.
Wolf had gone to the club with his two close friends, Juan Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen. That night, Leinonen said to his friends, “You know, what we never say enough is that we love each other, so I’m going to tell you that I love you.”
An hour later, the shooting started, and Wolf managed to escape through an emergency exit. He would find out in the aftermath that his friends were among the 49 who killed.
Wolf is also a fighter. He’s channeled the fear and grief from that night into passionate activism against gun violence, and for common sense gun laws.
A week after the Pulse shooting, Wolf and his friends launched The Dru Project, to honor Leinonen’s memory. The Dru Project promotes gay-straight alliances by creating a curriculum for high school GSAs to use, and offers scholarships to students who genuinely exemplify Leinonen’s support for inclusion and unity. Wolf serves as the project’s vice president.
Wolf spoke out about his experience in the media, and he joined Pulse survivor Jose Arraigada in standing with Christopher’s mother, Christine Leinonen, as she spoke about her son and other victims of gun violence at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
He raised his voice at Orlando’s Never Again rally following the Parkland massacre, to criticize lawmakers for doing “not a damn thing” to prevent mass shootings. He joined in the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC.
Now, Wolf is fighting to elect candidates who will stand up for LGBTQ people in the upcoming midterm elections.
”I think I have a personal responsibility to inspire and motivate young people to get out and vote,” Wolf told LGBTQ Nation. “So my primary focus has been getting folks registered, helping them find out about the candidates in their area, and where their polling location will be in November.”
To Wolf, these midterm elections come at a pivotal moment in American politics.
“I really need people to know that the midterms matter. This isn’t just any old time in American politics,” he said. “It’s not some conservative values vs. some progressive values, and everyone’s still a patriot.”
”We have people running for office today who have absolutely no vested interest in the betterment of the American people. Especially here in Florida, we have people running to represent the state of Florida that don’t actually care about the well being of Floridians.”
Beyond voting, Wolf says getting out the vote is everyone’s job.
“You need to connect with your neighbors, your friends, and ask everybody to be educated and informed, and get out to vote,” he said. “Because the only way we prevent these crooks, really — these selfish, narcissistic politicians — from maintaining their offices and gaining office is to use our power to vote.”
Wolf finds hope in the level of engagement in primaries this year, and results. “You look at the primaries alone in Florida, Orange County in the Orlando area set a record for turnout for a midterm primary. And you see that across the country,” he said.
“It’s motivating and inspiring to me when I see someone like Andrew Gillum win the nomination for the governor’s race in Florida because it’s so unlikely. If you’d asked people five, ten, or fifteen years ago if they imagined an African-American progressive winning a major party nomination for the governor’s mansion in Florida, you’d have heard that it’s not possible. But here we are. It is possible, and it’s possible because people turned out in record numbers to vote.”
The primaries have left Wolf hopeful about the outcomes for midterms this year. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “I’m hopeful that we will finally elect candidates across the country that care about their constituents, that are going to uplift those voices that aren’t heard often enough.”
“I think about just how vulnerable some of our communities are. I think about trans people of color. I think about communities that are rocked by gun violence. I think about income inequality. And we need politicians who represent those communities that aren’t heard. ”
However, Wolf’s optimism is tempered by understanding the reality of American politics today.
“But I’m also cautious because I know the state of affairs today in American politics. We have a president who can brag about sexually assaulting people, and still reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave,” he said, “We have a Republican party who in several states, if they could, would purge the voter roles of everyone who didn’t look like, think like, and talk like them.”
The only thing that can change the current state of affairs, according to Wolf, is voting like our lives are on the line.
“I’ve said a lot recently that we have to vote like our lives depend on it. And that’s because they do … So that we stop getting murdered in our schools. So that we stop getting gunned down in nightclubs and movie theaters, and concerts. So that we can walk the streets of this country and feel like people are protected.”
“My only message,” Wolf said, “is that it is imperative, and there is no other choice but to vote in November.”