Raising 49 placards bearing the faces of the Orlando shooting victims, House Democrats held a vigil on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to observe the one-month anniversary of the tragedy.
At the event organized by the LGBT Equality Caucus, the estimated 75 lawmakers called for a House floor vote on gun safety legislation that would expand background checks and prohibit terrorists on the “no-fly” list from buying firearms.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, called the Orlando shooting a “hate crime that devastated so many families and loved ones.”
“We come together in an evening of remembrance and bring the faces of the victims of this horrible attack to the Capitol steps,” Cicilline said. “Regrettably, since that fateful evening, no action has been taken by Congress, not even a resolution condemning the attack.”
At this time, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) seems unlikely to hold a vote on the legislation before lawmakers adjourn this week for summer recess.
Each of the five openly gay co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus who were present at the event — Cicilline, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) — read a portion of the names of the victims of the Orlando shooting until they were all named. Not seen at the vigil was bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress should send a message “that we do not countenance” discrimination against LGBT people in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
“Orlando showed us the horrifying power of a single individual to commit unspeakable acts of terror and violence, but Orlando also demonstrated the extraordinary power of community and of the American spirit,” Hoyer said.
The event echoed the recent House floor sit-in to call for legislation against gun violence, an action that recalled early LGBT grassroots activism seeking government action on HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights. Leading the House floor sit-in was by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was also present the vigil.
“We come here at this moment, at this time, to honor the lives of 49 Americans who were killed by more than a man,” Lewis said. “They were murdered by the destructive forces of hate, and a gun. Hate and a gun.”
The vigil took place on the same day House Republicans held a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act, federal “religious freedom” legislation that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination, and the Republican National Committee adopted a 2016 platform loaded with anti-LGBT language, including a plank calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
Randi Weingarten, a lesbian and president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke with passionate indignation about the Republican Party as a result of these anti-LGBT attacks and failure to hold a vote on gun safety legislation.
“It is personal,” Weingarten said. “There needs to be a vote. People need to be on record to know whose side you’re on. Are you on the side of human dignity, of wanting people to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or are you on the side of hate? It is personal, whether it’s Charleston church-goers in Charleston, or club-goers in Orlando or police officers in Dallas. This epidemic of gun violence must stop.”
Also speaking at the event was Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, who said those who demonize LGBT people through words and actions are complicit in the violence that fueled the Orlando shooting.
“The safety of the LGBTQ community also depends on our ability to end this epidemic of gun violence that has spiraled out of control in our country,” Griffin said. “Unfortunately, in the last month, Republican leaders have continued to stand in the way of meaningful progress to end the hate and to end the gun violence.”
The last speaker at the event was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who arrived late because she just returned to D.C. after attending the memorial service for the five police officers killed in the Dallas shooting last week.
“We’re not ever going to stop,” Pelosi said. “If anybody in this building thinks that it’s going to fade, they can just forget about it. To us, it is inevitable that this will happen. To them, it is inconceivable that this will happen, and we want to shorten the difference between the inevitable for us and the inconceivable for them.”
At the end of the vigil, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) led lawmakers in the singing of the civil rights-era song “We Shall Overcome.” For one verse, he exchanged the words “We Shall Overcome” for “We Shall Pass a Bill.”
Jason Lindsay, executive director of the newly formed Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, was also present as an attendee and told the Blade the vigil would have an impact.
“I think events like this are a constant reminder to the other members that aren’t supportive of gun reform that we’re here, we’re constantly going to be mobilizing, and the longer they wait to take action, the more people are going to be involved, and they really need to take action now,” Lindsay said.
Video courtesy Blade reporter Michael Lavers.