More than 600 people turned out in Dupont Circle Monday night for a candlelight vigil honoring the 49 people who lost their lives and the 53 who were wounded in Sunday’s shooting rampage at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
The vigil was organized by D.C.-area members of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum, which identifies itself as a collective of Muslim women of color and allies.
With individual placards bearing the name and age of most of the Pulse nightclub victims placed on the pavement next to the Dupont Circle fountain, about 20 speakers gave messages of condolence for the families, friends and loved ones of the victims.
Several identified themselves as LGBT Muslims and straight allies, saying their aim was to fight for an end to Islamophobia as well as homophobia and transphobia. Others identifying as gay, lesbian and transgender pledged to continue the fight against anti-LGBT violence and the fight against those who would portray Muslims as scapegoats.
“We have to change the hearts and minds of those who hate us,” said Patrick Farley. “Go to the clubs and dance without fear. Hold your partner’s hand and kiss,” he said, calling on LGBT people not to retreat to the closet.
Abiha Bilgrami, the lead organizer of the vigil and an official with the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum, said she was among the group’s straight allies and advocates for building bridges between the LGBT and Muslim communities.
She said her deep sorrow and horror over the mass shooting in Orlando and the initial media reports that the shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was Muslim, prompted her to organize a vigil that would bring together in unity the LGBT and Muslim communities.
“Literally in the last 24 hours we pulled this together,” Bilgrami told the Washington Blade after the vigil. “And I am so amazed at this turnout, because everyone here is coming out to take a stand against homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia. So we’re all allies here today and that makes me very happy.”
Among those attending the vigil was Sheila Alexander Reid, director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit.
Among the speakers was a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a satirical male drag group whose members dress as nuns.
Lesbian activist Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of Latino and Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, told the gathering that many of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims were LGBT Latinos, some of whom were not out to their families.
More than 300 mostly LGBT patrons were present at Pulse for its weekly Saturday Latino Night venue, according to people familiar with the club.
Rivera, who said she and her wife have ties to the Orlando LGBT community, noted that parents and loved ones of some of the Latino victims were facing the additional anguish of discovering that their son or daughter was gay or lesbian at the time they learned their child or sibling had been killed at a gay nightclub.
Vigil participants placed lit candles next to the more than two dozen placards bearing the names of the shooting victims. As the sun went down about 8:30 p.m. speakers read the names of the victims. At the request of one of the vigil’s organizers, the crowd recited the Spanish word “presente,” or present, after each name was read.
“I think this was a great showing of solidarity,” Rivera said when asked by the Blade about her thoughts on the vigil. “To understand it was all races, all gender expressions, there were all sexual orientations, there were ethnicities from far and close,” she said.
“I would call this a really truly, extraordinary show of solidarity, not just against the ‘us versus- them’ but for the ‘us with them,’” she said.
Another Dupont Circle vigil commemorating Orlando shooting victims organized by the LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington is scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15. The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community is scheduled to hold a community forum on the Orlando shooting incident at 6:30 p.m.on Wednesday at a location to be announced later today.