About 2,000 people gathered in Loring Park on Sunday to find solace, share grief and honor the victims of the Orlando mass shooting.
Several elected officials, community and religious leaders spoke at the nearly two-hour vigil, offering words of comfort as the nation once again tried to digest news of another horrific episode of gun violence. The massacre of 49 people at a popular gay night club early Sunday was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus sang “Walk Hand in Hand With Me” as the crowd held hands and lit candles. The event was organized by OutFront Minnesota and state Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61).
State Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-62A), the longest serving lesbian elected official in the country, said the tragedy can’t lead to more division.
“Sometimes the most powerful form of resistance we have to the evil that happened today and to that happens in many other small ways is celebration — celebrating who we are, celebrating that we are together and are united,” she said, urging people to continue to celebrate during Pride month. “This coming together is what our community is about.”
Gov. Mark Dayton also expressed his outrage over the tragedy.
“Words fail at a time like this. They seem so futile and so inadequate, but Scott [Dibble] said it very well — the beast who massacred these innocent people was not acting on behalf of any political cause. He beat his wife. He massacred 50 innocent people — maybe more,” he said. “If there is a god or if there is an Allah, he will never find out because he will be doomed to eternal damnation for what he did to humanity, what he did to all of you in the LGBTQ community, and what he did to all of us as Americans who share our lives together, who embrace one another — embrace our similarities and our differences.”
Phillipe Cunningham, a senior policy aide for Mayor Betsy Hodges, read a statement from the mayor who was traveling and couldn’t attend the vigil. She expressed love and support for the GLBT, Muslim and Latino communities.
“A final word about gun violence. It must stop. Whether the victims are a grandmother sitting in her car or young people in a gay club in Orlando, many of whom were people of color, communities are suffering, cities are suffering — all of us our suffering from gun violence,” she said. “Let’s be clear: this disease is our disease. It is the responsibility of all of us in every neighborhood, city and state in our country to end this disease — to end gun violence and the easy availability of guns that make gun violence possible.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the country must come together, embrace peace and reject hate.
“In this land we cannot allow this tragedy to divide our communities. Therefore, today we stand together against hatred, violence and demonization of entire communities. This act of an individual is criminal, extreme and has no faith or values,” he said.
Mike Griffin of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change fired up the crowd and reminded people that many of the victims were people of color.
“I sat on my couch for hours today and I felt in my soul that I was being attacked. As a black man, as a queer man in this city, I’m being attacked by both sides — attacked because of my race,” he said. “… We face discrimination in our workplace. We face discrimination in our schools. We are also fighting for our queerness — our identity.”
Senior Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel called for understanding and open minds.
“Today I look out and I see all of us with broken hearts — broken hearts that will give root to something in a world that we hope will be a reality and that is a world that is flexible and understanding; a world that is full of love and care,” she said.
Dibble thanked the crowd for showing their support for the victims.
“Today a hater wrote a page in the history book. Tomorrow we write the next page of history and that’s going to be a page filled with love and grace and courage and resilience and determination. We will be stronger for this,” he said. “… Lets celebrate in this space in two weeks.”
The Twin Cities Pride Festival will be held in Loring Park June 25-26. The Pride Parade starts at 11 a.m. at 3rd & Hennepin on June 26.
Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride, said organizers are working hard to ensure the safety of visitors.
“We will have a more visible security presence this year. In the past our security has been more behind the scenes,” she said.
She also sent out an email to supporters expressing sympathy for the victims and their loved ones.
“This senseless tragedy unfolded while members of our LGBT family were dancing and celebrating life. It has affected us all deeply and Twin Cities Pride is working diligently to ensure that our 2016 events are safe and provide a space for the LGBT community from across the region to come together as family; to love, to heal, to educate — and, yes — to celebrate,” she wrote. “… Additionally, Twin Cities Pride is working through plans for paying tribute to the victims of this horrific crime. We will share details of these memorials as soon as they are finalized, so that you may participate in a way that is meaningful for you.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau also offered condolences for the victims in Orlando.
“The mass shooting that’s occurred is shocking, sad and intolerable. The MPD wants to reassure residents and visitors in our city that we remain vigilant and committed to ensuring people are safe at large scale events with significant crowds,” she said. “We continue to be in constant communication with our federal partners to make that possible. We stand with and protect all of our citizens in the fight against violence of any kind, including crime driven by hate to instill fear.”