By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
The people at Pulse, the gay club in Orlando, were there early Sunday morning to have a good time in a space where they felt safe. Then a gunman intruded into the party, killing 49, wounding 53, several gravely.
On Wednesday evening more than 300 people gathered at the First Presbyterian Church to remember the victims. The names of the dead were displayed around the community room, and then when the gathering moved outside for lighting of candles, all 49 names were read aloud.
“Tonight we are gathered in the ashes of a horrific event in Orlando,” said the Rev Gary Saunders, co-pastor of First Presbyterian.
He said that he had talked to “a dear friend, a gay man, who said ‘I won’t be there. I’m too afraid of being part of group like this that will be, by definition, a target.’ So sad, but understandable.”
Among those in attendance was Imam Talal Eide, of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, he decried the “heinous” crime, and said that it was against the tenets of Islam. “The bloody slaughter of innocent people is … condemned.”
God created all people with dignity and gave people “the freedom to choose our lives,” he said. As a human “I am responsible to build bridges of love between us rather than bridges of hatred.”
The Rev. Lynn Kerr of the Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation said it was “O.K. to afraid in the wake of the attack.” But the people needed to make choices. “Let us choose love, and act on it, again and again and again.”
Mayor Dick Edwards said the community needs “to embrace the basic tenet of the Not In Our Town movement to fight hate in any form and stand tall for individual liberty.”
Bowling Green State University President Mary Ellen Mazey urged those present to act to address gun violence. “I don’t believe our forefathers, when they wrote the Second Amendment, intended for weapons of mass destruction to be used in schools and night clubs.”
She said it was “incumbent” on those in the room to address this problem.
Gwen Andrix, who along with Linda Tomajko and Amy Jo Holland, organized the event with the assistance of Not in Our Town Bowling Green, has been at the Four Corners every day since Sunday with a gay pride and transgender pride flags where she has at times been preached at and mocked.
At the gathering, Andrix read a letter from a childhood friend, a gay man. It detailed the ways in which the LBGTQ community has been attacked since the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City.
The letter writer said he did not want the “prayers and moments of silence” from those who supported religious figures and politicians, including Donald Trump, who promoted hatred of gays. Nor does he want sympathy from “those who have turned the Orlando attack into a reason to hate all Muslims.”
He said he wants people to vote against the politicians who support the more than 200 pieces of anti-gay legislation moving through state and federal legislatures.
Instead, the letter concluded: “I want you to say more hatred will not stop hatred. More division will not bring us together and make us strong. I want you to say more violence will not prevent violence. I want you to love. I want you to no longer take part in the terror caused by your silence. I want you to never let this happen again.”
Later outside, Andrix said that someone relayed to her a Facebook message that encouraged people to show up with super soakers and paint ball guns to disrupt the vigil.
The scene remained peaceful as candles were lit, names read, and songs sung.
Then as the formal portion of the program ended, one by one people took to the microphone to relate their own experiences, how this act 1,000 miles away cast a shadow on their lives.
Lucas Liner said that on Tuesday night he went to Pride night at Ziggy’s. He admitted that he was “scared as hell” to be there, and yet wouldn’t have been happy anywhere other than with his LBGTQ brothers and sisters.
Bob Hillier said he was pleased to see so many people came out to the vigil. As a transgender individual, he said, “I feel safe here.”
Bobby Ott said he used to live in Orlando and frequented the Pulse. He went there with his friends. “That could have been us.”
Ashley Peguies said people shouldn’t lose sight that this was an attack on people of color, Latinos and blacks. Those communities are feeling a loss.
That loss was particularly personal for Jay Torres-Almodovar. She said “three of the victims were friends of my family or friends of my classmates.”
It was hard for her, she said, to hear “all those beautiful names” read out.
Many of the families, she said, didn’t know that their loved ones were gay. They found out “this is who they are” and that they were dead at the same time.
Christopher Frey said that he travels around the world, including to places where being gay is a crime. But he often feels safer there than at home.
“We need to quit weaponizing the haters,” he said.