In the wake of the largest single shooter gun massacre in U.S. history early Sunday, approximately 120 members of the LGBTQ community gathered with their allies at city hall Tuesday to hold a vigil for those who lost their lives.
“We’re here to remember the 49 people murdered in Florida this week, and to honour their memory,” said organizer Christopher Moore, who then handed around the list of those killed for each name to be read aloud. Fifty three people were injured during the spree, which took place at an Orlando nightclub.
Afterwards, members of the community were encouraged to speak their minds and share their experiences. Some offered stories of physical abuse — one man recounted being called a “faggot” before taking a fist to the teeth — while others shared how it’s felt to be discriminated against, excluded and hated.
“I look forward to the day we all have courage and there’s no such thing as us versus them,” one woman exclaimed, to applause, while another said, “I’ve been in the closet and I will never get chased back in there again.”
Another shared her anguish at the news.
“I’m wrecked by this. Just wrecked. I can’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “My hope is that something changes because of this, something beautiful and amazing will come out of this. That’s my wish.”
A woman from Castlegar shared the story of coming out to her children 10 years ago via email, only to have them respond, “We were wondering when you would tell us” — an anecdote that she believes demonstrates how far modern sensibilities have progressed.
“We not only need each other. We need the community, we need our kids, and need all of you, allies,” she said. “We need to come together and support each other.”
She told everyone present there will be a follow-up vigil in Castlegar on Sunday, and encouraged everyone to attend.
As part of the ceremony, attendees were encouraged to shout out one word. Some of the words included hope, peace, love, solidarity and kindness.
A woman encouraged everyone to reflect on internalized homophobia, something she’s grappled with lifelong. Reports have indicated the shooter may have been a regular at the club he attacked, and she thinks the crime may have been motivated by his own self-loathing — a speculation shared by a number of news outlets.
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall was in attendance, as was city councillor Michael Dailly, and she took the opportunity to share the story of a Chinese exchange student she befriended at the Nelson Food Cupboard.
“He told me he didn’t want to go back to China — not because of the lack of human rights, or the dictatorship, but because he couldn’t be who he was and love who he wanted to openly in that country. He was inspired by this community, and I want to thank you for that and for persevering. Thank you for showing that love is the most powerful force in the universe.”
Mungall has started a postcard-writing campaign and is welcoming everyone in need of solidarity to visit her office.
“They need to hear our support, they need to know it’s there. We’ve got postcards, swing by this week or next week and we’re going to get in touch with the city, with Pulse night club and we’re even hoping the families will receive copies of our messages,” she said.
“That’s what they need to hear more than they need to hear from Donald Trump right now.”
In closing, Moore encouraged everyone present to continue embracing their sexuality and to “be out in every aspect of your life” — the workplace, in public, with family and friends. He told the crowd to “fight hate with love.”
“Kiss your lover, dress exactly how you want, be who you are and be proud of it. The strongest statement you can make is to be exactly who you are.”
Victims of Sunday’s Orlando massacre
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34Stanley Almodovar III, 23Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22Luis S. Vielma, 22Kimberly Morris, 37Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30Darryl Roman Burt II, 29Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50Amanda Alvear, 25Martin Benitez Torres, 33Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25Miguel Angel Honorato, 30Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40Luis Daniel Conde, 39Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19Cory James Connell, 21Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37Jerald Arthur Wright, 31Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33Brenda Lee Marquez McColl, 49Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28Frank Hernandez, 27Paul Terrell Henry, 41Antonio Davon Brown, 29Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24Akyra Monet Murray, 18Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25