Early in the evening of June 12, members of Gays Against Guns remembered the 49 souls lost in 2016 massacre at the LGBTQ club Pulse in Orlando, Florida. The killings took place four years before to the day in the early morning hours of a Sunday while the club celebrated a Latinx night.
Joined by the group’s affiliate Human Beings, white-cloaked spectres representing the victims, Gays Against Guns gathered outside the Stonewall Inn at 6:30 p.m. in a vigil purposefully kept small to avoid overcrowding and to respect social distancing public health guidelines. The vigil was also livestreamed on social media.
Photos of the 49 killed were mounted on the outside brick wall of the Stonewall, as were posters commemorating transgender men and women recently lost to prison neglect or lethal violence, including Roxana Hernández, a Honduran immigrant who died in 2018 in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, who died from while in restrictive custody at Rikers last June from epileptic seizures, a condition correction authorities were aware of, Nina Pop, who was murdered in her small town Missouri apartment in early May, Tony McDade, who was shot to death by police in Tallahassee, also in May, and Monika Diamond, who was shot to death in Charlotte, North Carolina, in March even as she lay in an ambulance waiting to be taken to a hospital because of shortness of breath.
In announcing the Friday evening vigil, Gays Against Guns, wrote, “We will honor them with action. We will say their names. Why? Because we know that direct action draws attention to the issue and saves lives. We know that saying their names keeps the conversation going. We know that saying their names is a form of prayer. We know that conversation is prayer. We know that this is not our fight alone. Like the fight for racial equality, ending the public health crisis of gun violence is everyone’s fight.”
The group, formed at the initiative of Kevin Hertzog and Brian Worth, first made its presence known at New York City Pride in 2016, the same month as the Pulse massacre, when nearly 1,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue behind a wide Rainbow-colored banner, designed by Gilbert Baker, that read “GAYS AGAINST GUNS.”
In the four years since, the group has staged numerous public actions aimed at the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby, investors with significant holdings in gun manufacturers, and elected officials in New York and Washington, DC who support the NRA.
Several vigils were held in Orlando on Friday, as well.
One Orlando Alliance, which is a coalition empowering queer organizations in Central Florida, rang 49 virtual bells on Facebook at noon to commemorate the massacre’s anniversary.
At 7 p.m., the onePULSE Foundation held a virtual version of its annual remembrance ceremony at the site of Pulse. Usually, families of victims gather at the site of the Pulse nightclub to remember their loved ones, but this year the event was a pre-recorded program during which all 49 names were read and remarks were delivered by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings, onePULSE Foundation board chair Earl Crittenden, and onePULSE Foundation founder and CEO Barbara Poma, who owned the nightclub.
The mayors also read poems written by Orlando-based poet Susan Lilley, who penned two original poems dedicated to first responders and survivors. There were, as well, performances by actor, and Broadway star Norm Lewis and singer/ songwriter Yaire. Faith leaders were also on hand.