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National

After Pulse Shooting, Florida Voter Rallies For Clinton Over Gun Reform

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Orlando. As part of our project Divided States, we're meeting four Florida voters on the show this morning. And we'll have them in the studio tomorrow to get their take on the final presidential debate. You know, you come to Orlando, you've got to make at least one stop at Disney. And this is where we met John Palys. He's 30 years old. He works at a discount store. And he asked us to come to this outdoor Disney mall.

JOHN PALYS: I've grown up on Disney. And I come here, and I - you know, I still feel like a kid again.

GREENE: And you - you spent some time working at one of the Disney Stores, right?

PALYS: Yeah, actually, my very first job was working at the Disney Store. And I did what they called merchantainment (ph).

GREENE: Merchantainment?

PALYS: Yeah, that's what they call their retail people.

GREENE: Can I find that in, like, a dictionary?

PALYS: In a Disney dictionary, probably.

GREENE: OK, what is it?

PALYS: Yeah, they put you - they put you through a whole class called traditions, and you learn all the lingo and have a magical day and all that good stuff.

GREENE: But John and I also looked back on a tragedy in Orlando - the June massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub here.

PALYS: It really shook me to my core, you know, because that's my people. I know the struggles. I know what they've gone through. You know, I talk about it, and I still get emotional. You know, I've been to Pulse dozens and dozens of times. And when you walk in, you can be yourself. And, you know, for someone to - to want to take that away, it's unbelievable.

GREENE: How does that shape your thinking about this presidential election?

PALYS: Honestly, you know, I was never really that filled in on gun laws. But after this event, it's kind of my number one issue. If I could only vote for somebody based on one issue, it would be common-sense gun reform. And it's a huge reason - huge reason I'm voting for Hillary.

GREENE: You come from a pretty religious family, right?

PALYS: I do. I do, yeah.

GREENE: And what - what was - what was the experience like coming out? When did it happen? How did your family react?

PALYS: So my family and I, we went to a nondenominational church. And it was kind of - kind of Baptist. Baptists tend to be a little bit more strict in their beliefs and how they feel about things, especially homosexuality. So I was really afraid to come out to my family because I was afraid that I might be kicked out or something. Like, I was still living with them, and I was afraid that they might say get out. So it was - actually, one day, my car broke down. So, you know, God bless my mom, come to save the day. She's like, I'm going to pick you up. But I was - I was in the car, and my little brother was in the back, and he said, oh, yeah, there's people in the youth group at church saying that John's gay. And I was like...

GREENE: Your little brother brings this up with you and your mom in the car?

PALYS: Yeah, yeah. So of course I denied it. I freaked out. I didn't know what to do, so I denied it. I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, not me, no - no way. And my mom just turns and looks me dead in the eye, like only a mom can, you know, and she's like, oh, my God, you are, aren't you?

There was no denying it at that point, you know? You can't lie to your mom. She knows the truth. So I was like, yeah, I am. And - and then we just kind of moved on. We had a car issue to deal with. And then the next day she - she just quickly said, it's OK; I'm still going to love you.

GREENE: Does everything you're talking about shape your politics as we look at...

PALYS: Everything - I take everything in my life. Everything shaped the way that I walk, I talk, the way I carry myself, the things I believe in. And it's funny because all the boxes are checked off with this election, whether it be gun control or LGBT rights, equality. And, you know, when I say that, I might not be Latino, I might not be black. But as a gay man, as that type of minority, I really empathize with people. I think empathy is singlehandedly the one thing that makes us all human.

GREENE: Let me ask you about Hillary Clinton because her likability numbers have always been, you know, pretty low.

PALYS: Yeah.

GREENE: A lot of people, even if they say they're going to vote for her, don't seem to connect. But I'm getting the sense that you find some connection with her.

PALYS: Yeah, I...

GREENE: Where does that come from?

PALYS: I actually - see, again, me wanting to empathize with other people. I think, as a gay man, I can relate to women, in some way. Certain men look down on females or they even look down on guys that may be a more effeminate. So I see that she's held to a higher standard or she's, you know, called out on things that - all of these other men in politics, it just passes by with them, but with her it's always a scandal.

GREENE: You're saying you can empathize with being treated...

PALYS: ...Differently because of who you are. And at this point, she's had so much stuff thrown against her that if I hear another accusation today, honestly, I'm just going to root harder for her.

GREENE: That was John Palys. He is one of four Florida voters who will be in the studio with us tomorrow morning talking about tonight's debate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.