Billionaire Branson Took Pride Flag on Space Flight to Honor Pulse Victims

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday July 17, 2021
Originally published on July 12, 2021

Richard Branson answers students' questions during a news conference at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M., on Sunday, July 11, 2021.
Richard Branson answers students' questions during a news conference at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M., on Sunday, July 11, 2021.  (Source:AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Billionaire Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson rocketed 59 miles up to the edge of space on June 11 — and he took a Pride flag with him in tribute to victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Business Insider reported.

"Somebody who lost a loved one at the Orlando massacre asked if I would do that," Branson told the Daily Mail. "We also have many, many friends who are gay and I know people who lost friends there."

On June 12, 2016, a gunman entered Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people over the course of several hours. Fifty-three more victims were wounded. The club's patrons were primarily LGBTQ and Latinx.

Branson has advocated for LGBTQ equality in the past. As Metro Weekly noted, Branson encouraged businesses to take a stand against Brunei's plans to introduce a penalty of death by stoning to punish gays. The publication also pointed out that the hour-long flight on July 11 — which included five minutes of weightlessness and was undertaken in a craft produced by Branson's own company — was an expensive proposition. Metro Weekly further took note of Branson's estimated personal wealth of $8 billion.

Branson "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," the Metro Weekly article said, adding that the billionaire had "jetted off from a planet where more than 70 countries criminalize LGBTQ people."

Other publications took note of the space race between Branson and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. The Associated Press pointed out that Branson's flight to a height of 53.5 miles — high enough to see the curve of the Earth and the blackness of space — had brought "astro-tourism a step closer to reality" while "beating out his exceedingly richer rival Jeff Bezos" for the historic distinction of being the first to reach space in a private craft.

Bezos is expected to follow suit in just over a week's time. Space tourists able to afford tickets for a quarter-million dollars each will have to wait a bit longer than that — though, the AP has reported that "Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations" for eventual commercial spaceflights.

The BBC reported that Musk's "Blue Origin space company" issued a tweet that claimed Branson's spacecraft "wouldn't reach the 'internationally recognized' altitude for where space begins — the so-called Kármán line of 100km."

However, the BBC added, "The US government has always recognized the boundary of space to be at about 80km (50 miles)."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.