Tears and heartache… but a message too of strength and solidarity.
“We are here. We are loud. We will not shut up, we will not be silent!” Speakers told the crowd, several hundred strong who had gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to remember the victims of the Orlando massacre.
Flags, heartfelt signs, and placards bearing the names of the dead lined the Art Gallery stairs.
“Actually it breaks my hear to see so many people here who are so motivated out of loss and pain,” says Buck Rowland who moved to Canada to be with his husband.
He and says the message today is that despite some successes, Orlando proves homophobia is as real as ever.
“When we’re oppressed we come together very quickly and very actively to remind the world that we are not invisible. It goes back for me to the 80s, of silence equals death, and I can not be silent at a time like this.”
That was a message echoed by Shareen Chin, who says there’s a long way to go in fighting for equality and safety.
“Pride means more than just parades and parties. It’s still relevant, marriage equality is passed and I’m lucky I didn’t really have to face the battles that the older generation had to. But it doesn’t mean the young ones… all of us have a place to play.”
Speakers led the crowd in a moment of silence, which was followed by a raucous cheer and a message: We are still here.
Feeling of anxiety
The mood in the crowd was somber crowd, and many shed tears as they talked about hearing the news Sunday morning.
For some, confronting the violence against the LGBTQ community was a frightening thought.
“You know we were out on Friday night, it could have been us, it could have been our friends.”
“And it creates a lot of anxiety for me as well, because I’m worried about things like that happening here.”
Love over hate
But despite that anxiety, many of the speakers, including Vancouver City Councillor Tim Stevenson said, the message needs to be one of rejecting intolerance, fundamentalism, and hatred of all kinds.
Vancouver City Hall is being lit in rainbow colours tonight, and tomorrow will fly the pride flag at half mast.
Speaker Joan-E said in the wake of the violence, care needs to be taken not to quickly blame other groups.
“We have to also make sure that we don’t allow a poor relationship to develop with the Muslim community and the LGBT community. Nobody who lost their life in that bar last night would want that to happen.”
Danny, gay Syrian refugee who came to Vancouver. "What happened this morning is not terrorism. This is homophobia" pic.twitter.com/mO1QZiLLh5— Simon Little (@simonplittle) June 13, 2016
Colin McKenna, President of LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG Vancouver has penned an open letter in advance of the event, recalling Vancouver’s own brush with anti-gay hate, when Aaron Webster was murdered in 2001.
Now, 15 years later, he can’t believe there are still attacks fueled by homophobia.
He says that’s why it’s more important now than ever to stand together.
“Sometimes you have to pick up a sign and pick up a flag and march down the street and maybe it’s just to support each other but it’s to really get out there and make sure that our voices are heard. Because 50 voices were silenced last night and we’re the ones that need to speak for them.”
He says it’s not a time to be afraid – but to stand up and be heard.
He says the community bonded together then to reject intolerance, and that the time to stand up has come again.
“Today is that day: It’s time for our community to come together again; it’s time for us to educate the world about the fact that we will not stop kissing each other, because we have the right to do so as people who love other people, regardless of sexuality or gender; it’s time for us to advocate for those who don’t have a voice, and need us to speak; it’s time for us to teach the newest generation that the fight isn’t over, and that it’s up to every LGBTQ individual and ally to be the voice that speaks tolerance, love and acceptance.”
The New West Pride society also held an event to honour the dead.
Organizer Michael Tiney says they wanted to do something because the attack hit close to his heart.
“When I woke up I was in devastated, I was in tears, really upsetting. And just knowing the fact that that could’ve been here, that could’ve been the Odyssey or Celebrities, or any club downtown.”
Organizers are inviting friends, family, and allies to meet at the city’s rainbow crosswalk at 7pm this evening “to gather in solidarity and mourn those who have lost their lives so senselessly.”
At least 50 people were killed in the United States’ deadliest mass shooting this morning, when a gunman stormed a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Officials are describing it as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.