New York City’s LGBT community gathered in front of the historic Stonewall Inn to collectively mourn the deaths of at least 50 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“We come today because we want to value the people who were lost in orlando,” Queer Nation organiser Ken Kidd, 58, yelled to the crowd of hundreds packed along Christopher Street in the West Village. “We come today for the past. We come today for the present. And we come today because we are a community that will never be silent again!”
The Stonewall Inn became the national symbol of LGBT rights in 1969 after law enforcement raided the premises, and gay and trans residents fought back against the routine harassment, sparking the Stonewall Riots. President Barack Obama named the tavern a national monument in May, the first official US landmark to honour LGBT rights. On Sunday, law enforcement flanked the historic street, assault weapons in hand, as the city remained on high alert.
Mourners exhibited pride, anger, and even disbelief that they stood in the face of yet another tragedy in the LGBT community - amid an ever-growing hostlie political environment across multiple US states with recent anti-transgender restroom legislation. The shooting did not occur in a vacuum, one speaker exclaimed. The crowd repeated chants of “No hate” and “Orlando, we got your back”. Many cried for the loss of life in the Florida attack. All called for the continued fight for equality and, importantly, safety.
Heather Osterman vigil attended the vigil with her partner, Mitch Davis, and two small children. Mr Davis’ son Owen, 5, rested on his father’s shoulders repeating the “no hate” chant to the cheers of surrounding supporters.
Both Mr Davis and Ms Osterman believed while they lived life rather comfortably “straight-passing” couple, it was important to remember the struggle the community-at-large had to endure to reach a certain point of progress.
“I come out here as a way to be like, ‘Hey my heart is cracking’, but what can I do to heal it and remember that this fight is important and will go on,” Ms Osterman, 43, told The Independent. “It started before we were here and will go on after us.”
“We’re a queer family and we feel that we needed to experience with our family,” 44-year old Mr Davis, who is transgender, added. “[Our son] really believes in good guys triumphing over bad guys. The hard part is trying to explain to him not that he won’t get hurt by a bad guy, that it’s not here and he doesn’t have to worry - but that it is something that is real and isn’t necessarily something that can’t affect him.”
For Nico Lang, a New York-based freelance writer, the shooting was a stark reminder of how much work still needs to be done for LGBT equality throughout the US.
“Orlando was a reminder of the reality of a lot of the country when it comes to how queer people live,” he said. “I think that sometimes [New Yorkers] get a skewed view of what life is really like for people and the hardships that people face everyday.
“And this violence - especially as it is directed toward brown people, trans women, and toward a lot of the marginalised parts of our community that we’re really not recognising on the level that we should - was a reminder of all the work that we need to do.”
Jennicet Eva Gutiérrez, an organiser for Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, released a statement via Facebook that addressed the threat faced by the transgender population in the US.
“If the #PulseOrlando tragedy does not raise the consciousness of a nation and the world about the violence the LGBTQ community faces, especially transgender women of colour, nothing will,” she wrote. “Enough is enough.”
Shortly after 2 am Sunday morning, 29-year-old Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub during its “Latin Night” party - the poster for which featured trans female dancers. Mateen opened fire killing at least 50 and wounding 53 more, making his attack the largest mass shooting in US history.
It is the third US high profile mass shooting in the past year to specifically target a marginalised community - preceded by the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood attack and the killings at the Emanual AME historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
An official candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place at the Stonewall Inn Monday evening, and will feature clergy and elected officials.