By Liora Engel-Smith
Philadelphia’s LGBT community and their allies gathered for a vigil at City Hall Monday evening to mourn the killing of 49 people at Pulse, an Orlando, Florida LGBT nightclub. The event was hosted by the LGBT community and featured speeches from activists, Mayor Jim Kenney, and Council President Darrel Clarke.
Thousands attended. The crowd stretched from the northeast corner of City Hall to Love Park. They carried rainbow flags and signs such as “Trans Lives Matter”, “Too Many Names” and “Ban All Assault Weapons”. Many held hands and cried as the victims’ names were read. Some lit candles and wrote messages of love and peace on the sidewalk.
“This is about hate,” said City Council President Darrell Clarke, who spoke at the event. “We want to stop this violence once and for all.”
“You do not need a gun with 30 bullets in a clip to shoot a deer,” he said to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd.
“I want us to take a moment to look at each other. Look at the person next to you, look at the person behind you, look at the person in front of you, this is what our community is about,” LGBT activist Nikki Lopez said.
She told the crowd that she grew up near Orlando and that Pulse was an important part of her life there. “The only place that I could find Queer Latinx people was at Pulse nightclub,” she said, referring to Queer Latinos and Latinas.
“The dance floor at Pulse nightclub was my space for transcendence and my space for liberation,” she said. “Let the dance floor continue to be your authentic space of liberation.
Lopez read the names of the victims to the crowd. As she read, many people in the crowd lowered their heads and closed their eyes. Some wept silently, holding each other. She concluded the reading with “Love is love is love is love”, and the crowd chanted with her.
“We’re all here because we’re tired of being beat down. We’re tired of being stripped of our simple existence,” said trans activist Deja Lynn Alvarez.
She thanked Mayor Kenney and the community for coming to the vigil. “This shows people that we are here and we’re gonna stay here,” she said.
“Never gonna leave,” shouted a woman from the audience.
“That’s right. Ever,” Alvarez answered as the crowd clapped and cheered.
Her voice swelled as she spoke about the victims, most of whom were queer and Hispanic.
“This is our time, this is our moment. This is our chance to come together as a community,” she said. “It is time for us to show what we in this community have always known—that we are the most resilient, most powerful, and strongest community on the entire planet.”
People came to the vigil for different reasons. North Philadelphia resident Alvina Shilds said she came to the vigil to show her support for the victims’ families. She is all too familiar with the consequences of gun violence. Three years ago, she lost her grandson to a shooting.
“We have beautiful children, they shouldn’t be killed by illegal guns, that’s why I’m here,” she said.
One person mourned by vigil goers was 18 year-old Akyra Murray, a West Catholic Prep graduate, who just last month signed on for a full basketball scholarship. Murray was among the 49 murdered inside the Orlando, Florida club this past weekend.
Others were members of the LGBT community who came to give and receive support. South Philadelphia resident Emily Kesselman said she learned about the massacre on social media. “My first thought was ban assault weapons. I’m so tired of this happening, I’m so sick of it and weary to the point of despair,” she said.
Following the vigil, people sang and marched around City Hall.
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