An estimated 2,000 people filled Dupont Circle Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil commemorating the 49 people who lost their lives and the 53 wounded in the June 12 shooting massacre at the Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub Pulse.
The event, which was organized by the LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington, included more than a dozen speakers from local churches and faith-based organizations who said they wanted to join the LGBT community to mourn the loss of the mostly LGBT Latino and Latina patrons at Pulse.
With hundreds holding lit candles, Dignity Washington President Vin Testa opened the vigil by calling for 102 seconds of silence to commemorate the 49 people killed and the 53 wounded during the Orlando incident.
Speakers then read the names of the victims as the audience called out the Spanish world “presente,” or present, after each name was read.
Several of the speakers, including Dignity USA official Allen Rose, called for an end to the condemnation of LGBT people by religious leaders of many denominations that they said most likely prompted lone gunman Omar Mateen to target a gay nightclub for his shooting rampage.
The FBI and Orlando police have said Mateen called 911 during his attack on the nightclub and told a dispatcher that he supported the radical Islamic group ISIS.
“It is becoming clear that the perpetrator of this evil was responding, at least in part, to religious based homophobia that he internalized,” said Dignity USA official Allen Rose.
“Many of us here are actively involved in religious denominations that still preach negative and dehumanizing things about LGBTQ people,” he said. “I pray that all of us who are involved in these churches commit to redoubling our efforts to seek justice by getting our denominations to affirm the gift and lives of LGBTQ people.”
Similar to a Dupont Circle vigil commemorating the Orlando gay nightclub tragedy held on Monday night, speakers at Wednesday’s vigil called for solidarity between the LGBT community and the Muslim community, saying they would do all they could to denounce efforts to scapegoat Muslims for the Orlando incident.
Darren Phelps, pastor of Bethel Christian Church of D.C., drew loud applause and cheers when he cited his own relationship with his church as an example of how LGBT people can and should be a part of their communities of faith.
“The truth is I was in that club at one point in my life,” he said. “I’m out. I’m gay. I’m black. I’m same-gender-loving and I’m a Christian pastor,” he shouted.
“You cannot silence me with the Bible that you read from because my Bible points to a God of love and grace that is for everyone. Enough is enough,” he said. “It’s time for these bully pastors to stop using the pulpit to bash people.”
Wednesday’s vigil, which began at 8 p.m., followed an LGBTQ Community Dialogue held several blocks away at the Foundry United Methodist Church, which drew more than 200 people.
Officials with the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, who were among the LGBT supportive groups that organized the event, said it was aimed at providing a safe place for LGBT people to express their feelings about the Orlando tragedy.
Lesbian activist and psychologist Patricia Hawkins told the gathering that the grieving process over an incident like a mass killing sometimes brings about depression and other mental health issues and those who experience them should seek out support from friends and family and possibly counseling or therapy from a licensed mental health professional if needed.
Other speakers at the event announced that trained counselors were present and would be pleased to talk to anyone attending the community dialogue forum who wished to approach them.
“All of you have had experiences with grief in your life,” Hawkins said. “But this is different. It is an act of violence against a community.”
Hawkins said that although everyone has their own way of dealing with grief, she cautioned that in some cases the grieving process could lead to post traumatic stress disorder, which should be treated by a mental health professional.
During an audience participation period, several people said they were grappling with the Orlando shooting incident as a deep personal loss that made them feel unsafe.
“It could have been me,” said one young woman. “I could have been in that nightclub or in a place right here where this could happen,” she said.
Other speakers who identified themselves as Latino or Latina members of the LGBT community pointed out that the large majority of victims at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando were Puerto Rican in a part of Florida with a large and growing Puerto Rican population.
Among the facilitator-speakers at the community dialogue event were Maria Alejandra Salas-Baltuano, a Latina community activist; Joanna Cifredo, Racial and Economic Justice Policy Analyst for the National Center for Transgender Equality; Sahar Shafqat, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Steering Committee member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diverstity; and Urooj Arshad, an official with the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity.