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Billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson took an LGBTQ Pride flag to the edge of space to honor the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.
Branson, 70, flew 53 miles above the earth on Sunday, June 11, in a rocket plane developed by his space tourism company Virgin Galactic.
After returning safely to earth, Branson described the flight — and the five minutes of weightlessness he experienced at the edge of space — as “magical.”
“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” he told reporters. “The whole thing was just magical.”
Alongside two pilots and three Virgin Galactic employees, Branson told the Mail on Sunday that he would be taking a Pride flag with him during the flight.
Branson said it was to honor the memories of those killed at Pulse nightclub in June 2016, after a lone gunman entered the LGBTQ nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more.
“Somebody who lost a loved one at the Orlando massacre asked if I would do that,” Branson said. “We also have many, many friends who are gay and I know people who lost friends there.”
Branson, whose net worth is almost $8 billion, did not state whether he had also donated to the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit established to create a permanent memorial to the victims of the shooting, alongside carrying a flag to space.
Nor did he state whether he had contributed to the One Orlando Alliance, a coalition of over 40 service based organizations that provide LGBTQ+ specific programs in the Orlando area.
Branson also didn’t state whether he would be funding gun control efforts to reduce the possibility of another mass shooting, or whether he had donated to any other LGBTQ organizations, support groups, or nonprofits, in addition to carrying the Pride flag.
While some may appreciate the gesture, Branson jetted off from a planet where more than 70 countries criminalize LGBTQ people.
His journey also comes amid a wave of anti-transgender legislation in the U.S., a cruel new anti-LGBTQ law in Hungary, a gay man being beaten to death in Spain, rising transphobia in the United Kingdom, gay people being compared to the COVID-19 pandemic, and LGBTQ people being tear-gassed just for trying to show Pride.
With Sunday’s flight, Branson is one of three mega-wealthy individuals — alongside Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla investor Elon Musk — locked in a so-called “billionaire space race” to establish space tourism ventures and travel to space on their own vessel.
Tickets for flights on Virgin Galactic’s Unity rocket plane will cost up to $250,000, the BBC reports, with at least 600 people signing up to fly.
Branson has previously spoken out about the importance of LGBTQ equality. In 2019, he urged businesses to use their influence to force change in countries with anti-LGBTQ laws, after Brunei announced plans to legalize stoning gay people to death.
Calling the plan “draconian” and “horrific,” Branson said that he planned to take action, because he felt that “every opportunity to stand up for what we believe in is a good opportunity to shift the conversation on a global scale.”
Virgin Group, the multinational venture capital conglomerate Branson co-founded, has also signed onto the Open For Business coalition, for companies who “share a deep-rooted commitment to diversity and inclusion in their own workplaces” and are “concerned about the spread of anti-LGBT+ policies in many countries in which they operate.”
In 2019, Branson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that straight people “have a lot to learn from the gay community, and we need to embrace it.”
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