D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined several hundred people in Dupont Circle Monday night in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the first-year anniversary of the June 12, 2016 shooting rampage at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Fla., that claimed the lives of 49 mostly LGBT people.
Many of those attending Monday night’s vigil wept as D.C. gay activist Jose Gutierrez, co-founder of D.C.’s Latino Pride, read the names and ages of the 49 mostly Latino LGBT people who were shot to death in what authorities say was the worst mass shooting incident in U.S. history.
Another 53 Pulse patrons were wounded in the incident before police shot and killed the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, 29, who police said had targeted Pulse for a hate crime and a terrorist attack that he carried out with a powerful assault rifle.
“We are here today for a very important reason,” said Jason Lindsay, founder and executive director of the national political action committee Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which organized the vigil.
“We are here to reflect and to mark the one year since the Pulse tragedy,” he said. “It was one year ago that the horror was being told.”
Lindsay added, “On June 12, 49 beautiful individuals were murdered in the most gruesome mass shooting in U.S. history. But that it occurred in a celebration at Pulse nightclub in Orlando during a Pride Month Latin Night party made it especially hurtful.”
He noted, as have LGBT activists in D.C., that the Pulse attack shattered the long held assumption by LGBT people that gay bars were safe havens where people could go to be themselves in an often hostile world.
Lindsay and Catherine McCarthy, a Pride Fund volunteer and close friend of two gay men killed in the Pulse massacre, told the gathering that in addition to expressions of grief and support for the Pulse victims those attending the vigil must do what they can as individuals to advocate for changing the nation’s gun laws to prevent mass shootings from happening.
“Love is not all we need,” McCarthy said. “It is not enough. We need love and we need laws,” she said. “What I’m asking you tonight is this. Let’s continue to grieve imperfectly but let us keep pushing relentlessly,” she continued.
“Lawmakers will not yield to the craven indifference of the gun lobby,” she told the gathering. “Our love cannot protect us but it will sustain us in this fight. We are still here a year later and we will not go away.”
Bowser said she fully supports Pride Fund To End Gun Violence’s mission of pushing for both LGBT rights and sensible gun laws.
“Tonight we join our brothers and sisters across Washington, D.C., across our nation and certainly in Orlando, Fla., in honoring the 49 people who were taken from us one year ago at the Pulse nightclub,” Bowser said.
“Tonight we stand in remembrance of their lives. And tonight we stand with the city of Orlando as ambassadors of healing, hope and inclusiveness,” she said. “We offer our continued prayers and support to the victims’ survivors and their families.”
Bowser read a proclamation she issued on Monday expressing D.C.’s condolences to and solidarity with the survivors of the Pulse victims and with the residents of Orlando.
“Today we stand with our brothers and sisters in Orlando in proclaiming this Orlando United Day,” she said. “May God bless us all.”
Those attending the vigil said the somber but uplifting atmosphere at the event was boosted by about a dozen members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, who sang three songs, including the John Lenin-Beatles ballad “Imagine” and the African-American civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome.”
McCarthy told the gathering she has yet to overcome the grief she experienced upon learning that her friend of 18 years, Christopher ‘Drew’ Leinonen and his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, were among those killed in the Pulse shooting.
“I’m still astounded by the number of people I meet to this day who were impacted by his short time on this earth,” she said. “Between starting the first group for queer youth in our Florida county public school system to living openly and proudly and unafraid as a proud gay man, we know now that he made it easier for dozens of individuals to come out to be themselves and live without fear.”
LGBT activists in Orlando have told similar stories of how friends and family members in Orlando’s large Latino community spoke proudly about how they had accepted and loved their sons, daughters, or siblings who died in the Pulse attack.
Lindsay told of how the work of Pride Fund and other groups pushing for gun law reform made a difference in Orlando by helping to elect Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) last November in the congressional district that includes Orlando. Murphy, a strong advocate for gun law reform, defeated 12-term incumbent John Mica (R-Fla.) in an upset victory that observers attributed to Mica’s opposition to gun law changes called for by groups like the Pride Fund.
“We have the opportunity every single day to create change and honor them with action,” he said of the Pulse victims. “Getting to know many of their families and individuals affected in Orlando even just weeks after the attack, they said I don’t want another vigil,” Lindsay told the Dupont Circle gathering.
“I don’t want to speak to the news again,” he quoted Pulse survivors as saying. “I want to create change. I don’t want another mother to go through what I have. I don’t want another brother to lose their sister.”
He called on those at the vigil to become involved in gun reform advocacy by viewing his group’s website at pridefund.org.