ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The owner of a gay nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were killed in a mass shooting and the sister of one of the victims joined gay-rights advocates Thursday in denouncing appearances by Donald Trump and Marco Rubio at a pastors' conference that they say has a lineup of notoriously anti-gay speakers.
Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, was speaking at the American Renewal Project conference on Thursday. Rubio, a Republican U.S. senator, was scheduled to speak on Friday, which marks two months since the massacre.
"This is a slap in the face to me, my family, 49 other families ... and the entire Orlando community," said Celia Ruiz, whose brother Juan Guerrero was killed during the June 12 mass shooting that also left 53 people hospitalized. "How dare they promote hate in our city!"
Ruiz joined Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma and about five dozen other protesters at a rally in Orlando's tourist district where the meeting is being held. The protesters waved rainbow flags and held printed images of the 49 victims as well as signs that said "Dear Marco my friends died at Pulse" and "Marco Shame!." They urged the Florida Legislature to pass anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, and they also urged federal lawmakers to pass gun-control legislation.
"We are not done! We have a lot more to do!" Poma said.
Rubio said in a statement that the meeting isn't anti-gay; it's a celebration of faith.
"I have always supported a traditional definition of marriage. But I recognize that a significant number of Americans hold a different view," Rubio said. "This debate should be conducted in a way that is respectful of the views and the dignity of those on both sides."
The protest by the gay-rights and gun-control advocates is their latest salvo against Rubio since the Pulse shooting by gunman Omar Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police.
A month after the shooting, dozens of advocates started a 49-hour sit-in near Rubio's Orlando office to remember the 49 victims, leading to the arrest of 10 protesters who refused to leave the building when it was closing.
A week later, two dozen protesters shouted chants against Rubio as he toured businesses that were forced to close for several days because of the Pulse investigation by federal and state agents.
The speakers at the American Renewal Project conference include lawyer Mat Staver, who has represented Alabama's chief justice and a Kentucky clerk in their efforts to block same-sex marriage; David Barton, an evangelical political activist; Bill Federer, a religious broadcaster; Fred Lowery, a pastor and author; and Ken Graves, a pastor.