The outpouring of grief for Orlando came to New York on Monday night.
Thousands of New Yorkers gathered in front of the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando — the deadliest in the nation’s history.
At least 49 people were killed and 53 injured when a gunman opened fire inside the club early Sunday morning.
Stonewall attendees waved rainbow flags, held hands, and stood in solidarity with the victims of the massacre. Chants of “Say their names” and “What do we want? Gun control. When do we want it? Now!” filled the air. Residents in neighboring apartment buildings watched from windows and sat outside on fire escapes as a slew of elected officials and activists spoke in the center of the throng.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio both demanded tighter gun control laws from Congress and called for unity and tolerance.
“How many people have to die before this federal government comes to its senses?” Cuomo asked. “We had Columbine, we had Virginia Tech, we had Sandy Hook, we had San Bernardino, we had Colorado — when does it stop?”
“We do not accept the notion of any of our leaders sowing hatred and division, particularly in the wake of tragedy, and that means you, Donald Trump,” said de Blasio. The mayor also made special mention of a young New Yorker who lost his life in the attack: Enrique Rios Jr., 25, a social worker from Brooklyn who was visiting a friend in Orlando.
The vigil took place on what is sacred ground to many members of the LGBTQ community. The police raid at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, led to protests that were the start of wide-scale gay rights activism, and attendees on Monday night pledged to continue making progress toward tolerance and understanding in the community. Plus, June is both Gay Pride Month and National Gun Awareness Month.
Eunic Ortiz, the president of Stonewall Democrats NYC, the group that organized the vigil, told the crowd that their solidarity was “sending a message that we are not less than, that we are equal, and our lives will be respected.”
A unified mission to fight anti-LGBTQ violence pervaded the event.
“We all identify as gay, and we go to these clubs and bars — it could’ve happened here,” said Jeremy Norris, from Sunnyside, Queens.
Norris came with four friends to pay respects to the people harmed in Orlando and to stand together against anti-gay and anti-Muslim biases.
“It’s a shock to the system,” said Alan Ward, 42, one of Norris’s friends. “I just came back from Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim area. They were so unbelievably nice. Now this tragedy is being pinned on the Muslim community, and it’s not the case. We’re out here to show our support.”
Stronger gun laws are needed, said Jaime Pessin of Brooklyn. She’s a volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group fighting for common-sense gun laws around the country. The organization was founded the day after the Sandy Hook shootings.
“I’m a mother myself,” said Pessin, whose eyes filled with tears. “I have a son who will be eight years old in less than a month, and a three-year-old. I’m terrified for my children. When I read the news about Orlando, I wanted to curl in a ball and cry because I saw the text messages people were sending their mothers from the club. I never want to receive a text message like that in my life.”
At the end of the event, the names of the 48 identified victims were read, and each was followed by a response in Spanish — “Presente!” — from the crowd. The darkness was lit up by a sea of cellphone screens, creating a blinding array of white light as the names of the dead were recited. The light illuminated faces, many glistening with tears.
“We stand with the victims; this is a show of force,” said Ward. “We’re not going to be afraid — we’ve lived in fear long enough. It’s time to fight the hate with love.”