Florida mural of murdered journalist is defaced with anti-LGBT+ graffiti

A Florida mural depicting Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee was defaced with a swastika and anti-LGBTQ+ graffiti. The mural was dedicated to McKee, a writer and activist, after she visited Orlando in 2017 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Pulse gay nightclub, which killed 49 people and injured dozens more. McKee was fatally shot in 2019 in Northern Ireland.

Florida State Rep Anna Vishkaee Eskamani called the act “absolutely disgusting,” adding “Will do what we can to identify who did this and hold them accountable.”

Photos she posted of the defacement show graffiti that reads, “Protect lives save kids’ eyes from trans lies” and “Gay is not ok,” along with other offensive writings next to swastikas.

The mural is located at Orlando’s Zebra Youth centre, an organisation that provides services to those who identify as LGBTQ+. The mural shows a painted portrait of McKee in front of a rainbow heart. There is also a quote from one of her essays, which reads, “Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.”

Zebra Youth’s executive director, Heather Wilkie, told BBC News that “due to the political climate in Florida, it was not surprising, I would say, but it was certainly very scary.” She told the outlet, “We felt like our safety was placed in jeopardy.”

Ms Wilkie was seemingly referring to the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that has been passed this year in the state, including the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” Law and a ban on gender-affirming care.

“We’d been lucky at Zebra – our murals had not been defaced so far – but we have partner organisations that have had similar issues happen with their murals and property,” Ms Wilkie continued.

Ms Wilkie told the BBC that the police are “ actually identifying this as a hate crime due to the nature of the language that was painted and some of the symbols.”

“They’ve been very good about trying to get the security cameras’ footage all around the area from every angle to try and identify who it is,” Ms Wilkie added.

A spokesperson for the Orlando Police Department told The Independent that they don’t currently have any suspects; the spokesperson also said the police could not confirm that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

NR Hines, a criminal justice policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida, condemned the act, telling The Independent in a statement: “We expect vigorous condemnation of this disgusting act of bigotry by local and state officials – and a vigorous response to this hate crime by law enforcement officials.”

They continued, “On the heels of the anniversary of the Pulse massacre – coupled with the numerous hateful anti-LGBTQ+ policies that the Florida Legislature enacted, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law – bigots have clearly been emboldened. The defacing of this mural in Orlando only amplifies the real fear that LGBTQ+ residents already feel.”

The policy strategist added, “Hateful rhetoric and discriminatory policies have fostered a climate in which LGBTQ+ citizens attending a nightclub, Jews attending synagogue, and Black and Brown people out shopping in their neighborhood have become targets of hate and violence.”

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