At Stonewall Site, Thousands Remember Pulse Victims

Forty-nine Human Beings representing the Pulse nightclub victims, a concept developed last year by performance artist Tigger-James Ferguson, approach the vigil site. | DONNA ACETO

Thousands gathered near the Stonewall National Monument in the West Village on June 12 to remember the 49 LGBTQ people who were shot and killed by a gunman in a Florida nightclub one year earlier.

“It’s been a mission this year to get some independence back,” said Keinon Carter, who was shot twice in Pulse, an Orlando club, by Omar Mateen.

Now confined to a wheelchair, Carter was flown to New York City by Gays Against Guns (GAG), the group that organized the two-hour long vigil. One of 53 people who were injured during the shooting, he was greeted with cheers and applause by the Manhattan crowd.

“Thank you everyone for coming out and showing support for the survivors of Pulse and the victims,” Carter said.

Gays Against Guns vigil features 49 haunting, veiled Human Beings, symbolic casualties of America’s gun madness

The anti-gun violence group was formed immediately following the Pulse massacre and debuted in the 2016 New York City Pride Parade with a contingent of roughly 1,000 people. GAG has since gone on to mount protests aimed at the NRA, politicians who are backed by the NRA, Wall Street firms that fund the gun industry, and a host of other targets.

Gays Against Guns formed in the wake of last June's Pulse tragedy. | DONNA ACETO

In last year’s Pride Parade, GAG was joined by performance artist Tigger-James Ferguson who organized 49 Human Beings, who were veiled, dressed in white, with each one carrying a sign with a picture and short biography of a Pulse victim. GAG has memorialized victims from other shootings as Human Beings, who remain silent, at its protests.

The 49 Human Beings from the 2016 pride parade were reprised at this year’s vigil. They entered as the vigil began. As the names of the Pulse victims were read in four separate segments, the Human Beings who were named in each segment came on the rally stage and remained there. At the rally’s close, all 49 Human Beings were on stage.

Keinon Carter, who was severely injured in the Pulse attack, spoke to the crowd. | DONNA ACETO

The vigil featured songs by Broadway performers, poetry readings, a dance performance, and music by the Lavender Light Gospel Choir and the Queer Urban Orchestra. In addition to the thousands who attended in person, 32,000 people watched it live on Facebook and the Facebook stream had 100,000 impressions.

The gunman struck on Latinx night at the club and the dead and wounded were overwhelmingly Latinx and African-American.

Carter, who is African-American, has a harrowing story.

He was in the bathroom at Pulse when the shooting began. He first heard shots and then smelled gunpowder. He exited the bathroom and was shot in the leg by Mateen, who used an assault rifle.

A portion of the Human Beings contingent held up the names, pictures, and short biographies of the Orlando victims. | DONNA ACETO

“I crawled to an area where my friend was,” Carter, who lost a brother to gun violence when he was 15, told Gay City News following his speech. “I called the police.”

He lay in one spot for roughly three hours and continued to hear gun shots the entire time. Mateen was wandering the club and randomly shooting people who were lying on the ground. His was shot a second time in the pelvis by Mateen as he lay on the floor. That second shot caused serious damage to major organs and bones, though he should eventually be able to walk again.

“It’s been like a roller coaster of emotions,” he said as he made up and down motions with his hands. “Just the thought that I could have been number 50.”

Though his physical recovery is slow, emotionally he is more resilient. As some dance music could be heard behind the rally stage, Carter was there in his wheelchair dancing with some friends.

Singer Aaron Paul was among the evening's entertainers. | DONNA ACETO

Judy Torres, accompanied by the GAG Reflex singers, performs “I Will Survive.” | DONNA ACETO

As the youth a capella group the Passing Notes performs Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah,” Valentino Musumeci (at right) sings lead. | DONNA ACETO

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., addresses the vigil. | DONNA ACETO

Rollerena (right) is among those reading the 49 names of those killed in Orlando. | DONNA ACETO

Stacy Lentz and Lisa Canistraci read from the list of 49 club-goers killed last June in Orlando. | DONNA ACETO

Crystal Demure, whose alter ego J. Harrison Ghee currently stars in “Kinky Boots,” performs. | DONNA ACETO