Talking Hope and Resilience at Stonewall Inn's Orlando Vigil
Standing alongside thousands of people last night outside of the Stonewall Inn, it was hard to hold back tears. It’s been a few days since a gunman entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando, taking the lives of 49 LGBTQ people, and mourners sought refuge in the shadow of Stonewall, a historic landmark that has borne witness to both the losses of epidemics and celebrations of marriage equality. It’s now seen the sight of a community grappling to overcome the shock of the worst mass shooting in America in over a century. For some people, by the time they stepped into Christopher Park to lay flowers and candles at the Gay Liberation statue, the shock had already worn off. For others, grief hit at the vigil. As the 49 victims’ names were read, candles and lights from phone cameras lit up the tears running down people’s cheeks.
As the vigil began, dark clouds slid through the sky to match the somber mood. At the stage, a litany of speakers came to provide words and songs of comfort. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City councilwoman Rosie Mendez, and more gave voice to the mourning. Even Nick Jonas came on stage, though his appearance was met with more confusion and anger than praise. In the midst of the speeches, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess sang a rendition of the West Side Story song “Somewhere,” sending a wave of emotion through the crowd.
— Kathleen Culliton (@K_Culliton) June 13, 2016
Within the crowd and on the stage, people called for gun reform and a commitment to uniting against Islamophobia. As Governor Cuomo ended his moving speech, he offered the words of black LGBT novelist and social critic James Baldwin, saying: “‘Love does not begin and end the way we think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war.’ And it is a war we cannot lose. Let’s do, my friends, what New York does at its best. What we do at our best is we rise to the occasion, and we show the way forward.”
Ahead of the annual NYC Pride celebration, coming up later this month, a gathering of people of all nationalities, religions, ages, genders, and sexual orientations stood united in unspeakable loss. Signs bearing the names of the victims stood tall beside rainbow flags waving in the wind. As we moved throughout the crowd, we talked to and photographed those present, as they both stood resilient, and held each other in grief.
Michael Musto, 60: We’re devastated, but obviously we’re mobilized. Here at Stonewall was where we all got together when same-sex marriage was approved in New York State, so it’s the meeting ground. We come here for good, and we come here for bad, and we’re going to take the horror and unite. I’m seeing LGBT people of all types, which is inspiring, because the community doesn’t always unite in that way.
It’s heartening to know that the community cares, is going to fight back, is not going to lay down and take it. We have to fight constantly for our rights and for our lives, which very few people on earth have to do on a daily basis, but we have learned that we have to.
Trisha Bordeaux, “A lady never reveals her age”: I actually had some friends who were at the nightclub. I also have friends who knew other people there and we’ve been healing very slowly. It’s made me more determined to go out and live my life. I think there’s a tension. People are waiting for something, but we don’t know what.
Charles Caesar, 25: It almost didn’t hit me at first that it was a homophobic issue, but as soon as that sunk in—which it almost didn’t until this morning, yesterday I was just sort of numb—it just really hit me hard, and it really sucks.
Thoughts and prayers are wonderful and totally necessary, but this is a systemic issue. I think just talking about it is a great first step for anyone even if they don’t consider themselves political. Just start the conversation. I do think it’s wild that I could buy an assault weapon way more easily in this country than I could give blood as a gay man.
“All I hear over and over in my head is that it could have been me. This made me fearless. If anything, it gave me more resolve.”
Salame Viteri, 28: Our hearts are heavy, but we know that our sisters and brothers in Orlando are resting in heaven. I heard the news on my way to work, and I can’t explain it—I’m lost for words. I was in Orlando not even two weeks ago.
Schivanni Alamo, 28: All I hear over and over in my head is that it could have been me. This made me fearless. If anything, it gave me more resolve, and I’m not backing down. It made me angry. We’re going to celebrate for all those young people who lost their lives.
Brandon Modest, 24: It came out of nowhere. It’s sad because I feel like we’ve gone through all of this acceptance, and we feel accepted everywhere we go, but now it’s like, oh: reality.
Michelle Eisenberg, 31: I actually just turned 31 yesterday. I’m happy to be here with my wife, and I’m a teacher, so some of my students are here. It was a tough day at school. We had a big display in our lobby this morning that said, “Our hearts and thoughts are with you in Orlando.” People could take post-its and write different notes and things, and we hung those up and then we had a circle at lunch for students and staff who wanted to come and just process and debrief what happened.
Noelle Charles, 26: I don’t know why people give a fuck about who we sleep with. What you do in your bedroom should be your own fucking business. I couldn’t believe something like that could have happened in 2016, I was heartbroken.
Glynn Pogue, 24: I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little afraid to come to Pride. But I will come. It’s sad to me, because I feel like I don’t trust strangers anymore. I’m very wary of my neighbor. If someone were to ask me for help, I don’t know how much I would be willing to help them, because I would be afraid that it was a plot or something. But you’re supposed to be able to trust one another! I’m skeptical right now.
Cin Vanzetti, 24: I was really desensitized to it. The fact that we’re having massive gun-based incidents of violence every week… it was only a matter of time. People need to fucking show up to vote, and not just for presidential elections. They need to show up to midterm elections, they need to show up to local elections. Do the fucking research.
“We are not going to turn against our Muslim brothers and sisters, we are going to stand with people of color, and immigrants.”
Peri Holly, 27: I work at Callen-Lorde, which is a queer community health center here, and instantly it felt like a really direct, personal thing. One of the things I’ve been most excited and proud about are all the queer people who were immediately, like, we are not going to turn against our Muslim brothers and sisters, we are going to stand with people of color, and we are going to stand with immigrants. I think a huge step towards having things like this not happen anymore is rallying together, rather than dividing and getting angrier at each other.
Marty Cummings, Age not given: As a drag queen, I feel it’s my job to keep going and show people that it’s okay to laugh and come together. It’s just really scary. I think if I change the way I perform, the shooter wins. We have to keep going, and being out in public is protest in itself. There’s no LGBTQ tonight. It’s all just one unit and I think that’s really beautiful.
Anna Stone, 17: I was at the vigil last night, and I was really struck by someone else who had made similar signs. I personally found the individual names very touching to see. I think that we just need to think about the loss of life that happened this past weekend.
Yasemin Smallens, 18: It’s so sad how young all the victims were. We’re leaders of a queer youth affinity group called the Network. We have 1,000 members online, and we have meetings every month of about 70 people and we talk about different queer issues, and we’re all young. So to see this tragedy happen, it’s like seeing our own people die.
Billie Fabrikant, 17: I was a little bit terrified. I didn’t really understand the details at first. The really sad part is that all I knew is that there had been another mass shooting. I was with my family and I woke up and they said there was another mass shooting, as if it was, you know, normal and regular, which it is! And the more details came up, the more personal I felt it got. As a white person, I’ve never had such a personal moment like this, so it really hurt.
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Images shot exclusively for Milk by Daniel Scott.